It was Molière who said, “Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive”.
Turns out he was wrong.
If you thought a ticket to the Marriage of Figaro would cost more than the actual Marriage of Figaro, there’s good news: opera in Vienna is priced for everyone.
- The three main opera houses all have cheap seats, but sell out fast
- Check for returns on the day, though
- If you’re happy to stand, tickets under €4 are often available
- See also: Classical concerts | How to save on sightseeing
Visiting the opera is one of my recommended authentic Vienna experiences. You can, of course, spend a good three-figure sum on a seat. But you don’t have to. For example:
- At the Staatsoper, the cheapest seats are typically around €16, depending on the production
- At the Volksoper, seats with unrestricted views can cost as little as €7
- At the Theater an der Wien, the cheaper seats usually go for around €25
So what’s the catch?
Nice as that is, the three Vienna opera houses do not have unlimited capacities. So you need to get in early if you want to book the inexpensive seats.
The Staatsoper (state opera house) is the most popular venue, and ticket sales typically start as soon as the season previews are out. But…opera-hungry locals often snap up the cheap tickets for redistribution to their private operatic circle of friends.
However, even if a Staatsoper performance is seemingly sold out, my opera-going friend suggests you try the ticket offices on the day in case of returns.
You might be lucky, too. I recently got two tickets to Madame Butterfly just a month in advance for €30 direct from their website. Brilliant! That’s Madame Butterfly in the Vienna State Opera House for little more than the cost of coffee and cake(s) in a neighbouring cafe.
The standing ticket solution
Another way to experience Viennese opera cheaply is through a standing-only ticket (“Stehplatz”).
If the idea of standing for four hours waiting for Isolde to finally keel over is not your idea of fun, fear not.
In the Staatsoper, for example, there are upholstered supports for you to lean on. Not only that, but they have small, unobtrusive monitors where you get the English subtitles to the libretto.
At the Volksoper, standing tickets are ordered just like any other ticket and cost from €3. At the Theater an der Wien, they’re €5: some become available a week in advance, the rest from the ticket counter an hour before a performance begins.
You’re going to be most interested in standing tickets for the Staatsoper, though.
New rules arrived in time for the 2019/2020 season, which starts in September. Essentially, you have two options:
- Sign-up for a (free) Austrian Federal Theatre card. This allows you to purchase standing tickets in advance (one per card owner) until the day of the performance
- Any remaining standing tickets then go on general sale
To buy standing tickets on the day, you need to go to the dedicated “Stehplätze” ticket office (“Stehplatz-Kasse”) on the Operngasse side of the state opera house. So if you’re facing the main entrance on the Ring, you need to go round to the left.
This ticket office opens 80 minutes before the start of a performance, when you can buy standing-only tickets for that day’s production for €10.
Be warned – you can only buy ONE ticket per person. So everyone who wants to attend will need to be present when you buy the tickets.
The advantage of buying a standing ticket in advance is that you don’t have to queue and it’s cheaper, with a full, central view of the stage costing no more than €4.
Imagine that. You get to see a performance in one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses for less than the price of a glass of wine in the interval.
Now for some insider tips:
- Tip 1: The Stehplätze are split between the Parterre, Balkon and Galerie. If you can, get a Parterre standing ticket – these have some of the best views in the house
- Tip 2: I’ve been to the Staatsoper several times and picked up cheap standing-only tickets 30 minutes before the performance started (there are several hundred standing places available). But…
…it pays to get there early for more popular productions or those featuring the top stars. I tried twice to get standing tickets for Cavalleria Rusticana and, despite getting there very early, failed both times because of the queues.
With the new 2019/2020 purchase system, performances may even sell out in advance.
- Tip 3: There are (obviously) no seat numbers. So, again, getting there early helps ensure a good place in the standing area. Note you must leave coats etc. in the free cloakroom
- Tip 4: You can “reserve” standing room by hanging a scarf or similar across the relevant balustrade or upholstered support. Equally, you may find places already reserved in this way. Do respect this system
- Tip 5: If it feels a bit packed, give it time. Many casual visitors drift away early or at the interval, once they’ve grabbed their selfie and a short taster of the state opera experience (especially if it’s not a well-known opera)
- Tip 6: If all YOU want is a taste of the state opera experience, this is the cheap way to do it! (Another alternative is to take a guided tour)
Take that, Molière.