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 cheaply-priced seats available, but may sell out fast
- Also check for returns on the day
- 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. For example:
- At the Staatsoper, I’ve recently seen seats as cheap as €15 for some productions
- At the Volksoper, seats to premium productions have cost as little as €7
- At the Theater an der Wien, the cheaper seats can 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. 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 449 standing tickets available for each performance at the Staatsoper:
- Register for a (free) Austrian Federal Theatre card. This allows you to purchase a standing ticket in advance up to and including the day before the performance. A full, central view of the stage, for example, costs no more than €4 (what I paid to see La Bohème, for example)
Last time I checked, the form is in German only, so this might not be an option for you if you’re uncomfortable using the language.
- Remaining standing tickets go on general sale on the day of the performance
Here’s how the general sale system works until changes (see below) come in for the 2022/2023 season that begins on September 5th…
You go to the dedicated “Stehplätze” ticket office (“Stehplatz-Kasse”) on the Operngasse side of the state opera house. That’s the southwest corner of the building.
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.
You can normally 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 info and insider tips for those standing at the Staatsoper:
- 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
- The Stehplätze areas are Parterre, Balkon and Galerie. If you can, get a Parterre ticket: these have some of the very 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. 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 cards.
- There are no place numbers for the 2021/2022 season. 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
- 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, which makes more financial sense when standing ticket prices increase from September 2022, is to take a guided tour)
Standing tickets from the 2022/2023 season
The Staatsoper has announced various changes for next season, notably:
- Standing positions in the opera house are now numbered, which might put an end to the need to reserve your place with a scarf or similar (I’m awaiting confirmation on this)
- The number of standing tickets available through the Federal Theatre Card is limited to 100. Card holders now pay €4/€5 for a ticket (depending on which area you buy one for)
- The remaining tickets cost a little more than the current €10 price:
- €13 for the Balkon area
- €15 for the Galerie area
- €18 for the wonderful Parterre area
Despite the price increase, standing tickets still represent incredibly good value for money.
Other opera houses
At the Volksoper, you order standing tickets (if available) just like any other ticket and they typically cost around €3 to €8.
At the Theater an der Wien, standing tickets are usually €5; some go on sale a week in advance, the rest from the ticket counter an hour before a performance begins. However, I’m not sure on the availability in the coming season(s), though, as performances have moved to other locations while the main house undergoes renovations.
So all-in-all it seems opera need not be as expensive as you might think.
Take that, Molière.
P.S. Here a few tips on what to wear.