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, I have some good news: opera in Vienna is priced for everyone.
- Cheaper seats may obviously sell out fast
- …but check for returns on the day
- …and look for the remarkably inexpensive standing space tickets
- See also:
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.
At the Staatsoper, for example, I’ve recently seen seats for the 2022/2023 season as cheap as €16 for some productions.
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 and pre-bookings typically start as soon as the season previews are out.
However, pre-bookings for later productions may be oversubscribed, and opera-hungry locals may also snap up the cheap tickets for redistribution to their private operatic circle of friends.
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. International travel is still relatively low in 2022, which may free up space for those activities (like a visit to the Staatsoper) that might normally be sold out.
Even in “normal” times, 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).
Imagine: 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
Another way to experience Viennese opera cheaply is through a standing-room ticket (a “Stehplatz” ticket).
Staatsoper standing tickets
Essentially, you have two options for getting hold of one of the 400+ standing tickets available for each performance at the Staatsoper:
1. Register for a (free) federal theatre card
An Austrian Federal Theatre card allows you to purchase a standing ticket from a contingent online or at the box office from 10am the day before the performance for either €4 or €5, depending on where you stand. I used this system to see La Bohème and, most recently, Carmen (with Elīna Garanča!).
2. Buy a standing ticket on the day
Remaining standing tickets go on general sale on the day of the performance.
Here’s how that works for the 2022/2023 season…
You go to the dedicated “Stehplätze” ticket office (“Stehplatz-Kasse”) on the Operngasse side of the state opera house for the evening performances. That’s the southwest corner of the building.
This ticket office opens 80-120 minutes before the start of a performance, when you can buy standing-only tickets for that day’s production. The tickets cost:
- €13 for the Balkon area
- €15 for the Galerie area
- €18 for the wonderful Parterre area
Check the Staatsoper service pages for the latest situation on standing tickets.
If you can, get a Parterre ticket: these have some of the very best views in the house!
In previous seasons, you could only buy one ticket per person. So everyone who wants to attend should be present when you buy the tickets, just in case.
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 not much more than the cost of your average cinema ticket.
Now for some info and insider tips for those standing at the Staatsoper:
- If all you want is a taste of the Vienna state opera experience, this is a cheap way to do it. Another alternative, however, is to take a guided tour (which makes more financial sense now standing ticket prices have increased from the previous season)
- 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 provides upholstered supports for you to lean on. Not only that, but small, unobtrusive monitors supply you with English subtitles to the libretto
- I’ve been to the Staatsoper several times and picked up cheap standing-only tickets 30 minutes before the performance started. 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.
- Standing positions in the opera house are numbered, so you don’t need to reserve your place with a scarf or similar
(Previously, you could “reserve” standing room by hanging something across the relevant balustrade or upholstered support. Equally, you often found places already reserved in this way.)
- 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
Other opera houses
At the Theater an der Wien, standing tickets are currently unavailable. The main house is undergoing renovations until autumn 2024, and performances have moved to other locations that don’t have that standing facility.
At the Volksoper, you order standing tickets (if available) just like any other ticket and they typically cost around €3 to €8.
All-in-all it seems opera need not be as expensive as you might think.
So take that, Molière.
P.S. Here a few tips on what to wear.