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 may sell out fast
- Also check for returns on the day
- And look for inexpensive standing space tickets (which may actually be seating, depending on current COVID regulations)
- See also:
COVID-related public health measures may affect the availability, allocation, and processing of tickets for the 21/22 season. Check with the opera houses themselves, particularly as regards standing space tickets. See their websites, too, for guidance on current COVID status/test requirements when attending performances.
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. International travel is still low, which frees up space for those activities (like a visit to the Staatsoper) that might normally be booked up.
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). 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
Another way to experience Viennese opera cheaply is through a standing-room ticket (a “Stehplatz” ticket).
(Note that COVID-related regulations affect how the opera houses in Vienna handle their standing space. Check with the institutions for details.)
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 (if available) are usually €5; some go on sale a week in advance, the rest from the ticket counter an hour before a performance begins.
Staatsoper standing tickets
For the 2021/2022 season, the Staatsoper has replaced its standing tickets with low-priced seating in the areas previously dedicated to standing. See here for information on how to order etc.
Essentially, you had two options when standing tickets were available at the Staatsoper:
- Sign-up for a (free) Austrian Federal Theatre card. This allowed 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, cost 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 went on general sale on the day of the performance
Here’s how the general sale system worked…
You went 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 typically opened 80 minutes before the start of a performance, when you could buy standing-only tickets for that day’s production for €10.
You could only buy ONE ticket per person. So everyone who wanted to attend needed to be present when you bought the tickets.
Whatever method you used to buy your standing ticket, you got 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 (assuming the system returns in the future):
- 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 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
- 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.