It was Molière who said, “Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive”.
Turns out our French playwright was wrong. At least in Vienna
If you thought a ticket to The Magic Flute would cost more than an actual magic flute, 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 may be available that cost less than a coffee
- See also: Classical concerts | How to save on sightseeing
Update: Public health measures in the wake of COVID may affect the availability, allocation, and processing of tickets. Check with the opera houses for current information.
This uncertainty applies particularly to standing tickets, which have been largely unavailable (or replaced by spaced seating) during the pandemic.
Visiting the opera is one of my recommended authentic Vienna experiences. You can, of course, spend a three-figure sum on a seat. But you don’t have to. For example:
- At the Staatsoper, I’ve recently seen seats as cheap as €15 for some productions
- At the Volksoper, seats to premium productions 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 (apart from the possibility of a restricted view)?
Nice as low prices are, the three main Vienna opera houses don’t have unlimited capacities. So you usually need to book early if you want to buy 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.
However, pre-bookings for many productions may be oversubscribed and ticket allocation becomes a bit of a lottery. Opera-hungry locals may also snap up the cheap tickets for redistribution to their private operatic circle of friends.
However, even if a Staatsoper performance is seemingly sold out when you search for tickets, my opera-going friend suggests you try the ticket offices on the day in case of returns.
You might be lucky, too. I once got two tickets to Madame Butterfly just a month in advance for €30 total direct from the Staatsoper website (albeit with restricted views). That’s two tickets to one of Puccini’s famous works for about the cost of a cappuccino, double espresso and four pieces of cake in a neighbouring coffee house.
The standing ticket solution
(Note that the opera houses in Vienna have tended not to sell traditional standing tickets recently due to COVID-related regulatory restrictions. Check with the institutions for changes to the normal booking process.)
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.
The Staatsoper, for example, provides upholstered supports for you to lean on. Not only that, but small, unobtrusive monitors supply you with English subtitles to the libretto.
At the Volksoper, you order standing tickets just like any other ticket and they typically cost around €3 to €8. 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 are now in force. 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. A full, central view of the stage, for example costs no more than €4 (what I paid to see La Bohème)
(Last time I checked, the form is in German, so this might not be an option for you if you’re uncomfortable using the language)
- Any remaining standing tickets then go on general sale on the day of the performance
To buy standing tickets on the day, go to the dedicated “Stehplätze” ticket office (“Stehplatz-Kasse”) on the Operngasse side of the state opera house. If you’re facing the main entrance on the Ring, you need to go around 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 (usually for €10).
Be warned – you may only buy ONE ticket per person. So everyone who wants to attend needs to be present when you buy the tickets.
Whatever method you use to buy your standing ticket, you get to see a performance in one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses for no more than the cost of your average cinema ticket.
Now for some insider tips for those standing at the Staatsoper:
- The Stehplätze areas are Parterre, Balkon and Galerie. If you can, get a Parterre standing ticket – these have some of the best views in the house
- 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 failed both times because of the queues. That’s why I now have one of those Federal theatre cards.
- 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
- 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
- Note that a standing ticket entitles you to use the intermission bars just like any visitor. You can go to a bar before the performance and preorder drinks for the interval to speed up the process
- If it feels a bit packed, give it time. Many casual visitors drift away early or at the interval (especially if it’s not a well-known opera) after grabbing their selfie and a short taster of the state opera experience
- If all YOU want is a taste of the Vienna state opera experience, this is the cheap way to do it! (Another alternative is to take a guided tour)
Take that, Molière.
P.S. Here a few tips on what to wear to the opera.