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:
(Sign outside the entrance to the standing area ticket office at the Staatsoper)
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 seen seats in the 2023/2024 season as cheap as €15 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-expert friend suggests you try the ticket offices on the day in case of returns.
You might be lucky. 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 two 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
At the time of writing for the 23/24 season, you have three options for getting hold of one of around 435 standing tickets available for each performance at the Staatsoper:
1. Register for a federal theatre card with Standing roomPLUS
Get a free Austrian Federal Theatre card (German: BundestheaterCard) and pay the €20 upgrade for Standing roomPLUS (German: StehplatzPLUS).
This allows you to purchase one standing ticket per performance per card from a contingent online or at the box office from 10am the day before the event. The first four you book are free, then cost either €4 or €5, depending on where you stand.
2. Buy a standing ticket on the day
Standing area tickets go on general sale from 10am on the day of a performance, purchasable either online from the Staatsoper (you have to register and can buy a maximum of two per account) or at federal theatre box offices (I suspect these may also have a purchase limit per person but have no information on that).
The tickets cost:
- €13 for the Balkon area
- €15 for the Galerie area
- €18 for the wonderful Parterre area
3. Buy on the day from the special box office
A contingent of standing tickets remains reserved for 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 minutes before the start of an evening performance, when you can buy standing-only tickets for that day’s production.
In previous seasons, you could only buy one ticket per person at the Stehplatz-Kasse. So everyone who wants to attend should be present when you buy the tickets, just in case. Prices are as for Option 2 above.
Check the Staatsoper service pages for full details and the latest situation on standing tickets (and the different box office location for matinee performances).
If you can, get a Parterre ticket. These have some of the very best views in the house: as central as it gets and just above stage height (if I recall correctly).
Whatever method you use to buy your standing ticket, you get to see a live 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(ish) way to do it. Another alternative, however, is to take a guided tour
- 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
- Standing tickets include an allocated position number in the opera house, so you don’t need to reserve your place with a scarf or similar
- 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 as the main house is undergoing renovations until autumn 2024; 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.