Anyone wishing to get a good look around Vienna’s State Opera House has two choices. Either buy a ticket for a performance (cheaper than you think) or take a guided tour.
The advantage of the tour is you see one or two fascinating places that the opera goer can’t access.
- Explore the foyers, staircases, intermission rooms, Emperor’s room, auditorium and the stage
- Guide has plenty of interesting operatic anecdotes
- Tours all available in English and take around 40 mins
- Buy your ticket at the door
- See also: Opera in Vienna | The State Opera House
Go inside the Staatsoper
The State Opera House (Staatsoper) is a grand old building that dominates one part of Vienna’s mighty Ringstrassen boulevard.
The list of famous opera stars who performed here is Wagnerian in length. One of them – Placido Domingo – once received an 80-minute standing ovation for his Othello (a world record).
That Domingo anecdote is one of many you might hear on a guided tour from the Staatsoper’s staff, as you drift through an institution dripping in history and majestic decor.
All is not quite as it seems, though, Although constructed in 1869, WWII bomb damage wreaked havoc on the building. So today’s State Opera House is part-original, part-restored and part-modern, all of which you see on the tour through foyers, staircases, intermission rooms, and beyond.
Personal highlights for me on the tour were…
- The Teesalon: this is one bit the average opera goer typically misses, a sneak peek into the former private chamber of Emperor Franz Joseph
Large wooden doors lead almost directly to the Emperor’s box and the room has more decorative elements that you can shake a libretto at.
- The Schwindfoyer: a beautifully-restored intermission room dating back to the building’s construction
150-year-old chandeliers light the room, with the walls and ceilings graced by gilt floral decoration, frescoes, and a series of composer busts: Rossini, Mozart, Gluck, Schubert, Haydn, Beethoven, and others.
- The auditorium and stage: if the decor has impressed, now the technology comes to the fore
You slip around the side of the stage to see just how incredibly large it is and just how many beams, escalators, ropes and mysterious technologies are there to shift scenes and setups when each evening brings a different opera.
With a bit of luck, you can witness the stagehands setting up for the evening performance. In my case, 16th-century Cyprus (Otello) was gradually replacing ancient Egypt (Aida).
- The Mahlersaal: an intermission room rebuilt in the 1950s, with tapestries portraying scenes from Mozart’s Magic Flute
In one unobtrusive corner sits a travelling piano that belonged to none other than Gustav Mahler (Vienna is full of such gems).
(Gustav Mahler was once Staatsoper director and an important moderniser of the opera-going experience. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
But while the sights are impressive, perhaps the real highlights are the stories, anecdotes and facts whipped out by the tour guide. For example, the State Opera House has some 180,000 costumes at its disposal and 200 stagehands work every day to make those backstage changes.
All-in-all, the tour’s a lovely way to see inside (literally and figuratively) one of the world’s greatest opera houses.
Tickets & visitor tips
Understandably, there’s not always a fixed schedule for tour times, especially during the opera season (September to June), when the nature of the ever-changing daily performances can limit access.
Fortunately, the Staatsoper does provide an advance timetable here. The English tour is available at all scheduled times.
You simply wait outside the Tours entrance (at the corner of Operngasse and Opernring) around 15-20 minutes before the scheduled begin.
Once the doors open, buy your ticket (at the time of writing, €9 for an adult), and then walk across the waiting hall to stand by the sign with your language on it.
It’s all very well-organised and swift.
(Incidentally, if you want a glimpse of what that post-WWII rebuilding effort looked like, check out the photos at the Google Arts and Culture Staatsoper website.)
How to get to the State Opera House
As such a dominant city centre building, the Staatsoper is hard to miss on your walking tours of the old town. But for public transport tips, etc., see the main article on this grand old venue.
Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna | Website