With the word, Volksoper, stamped in giant burgundy lettering across its facade, there’s no doubting this building’s purpose. The “people’s opera house” is the youngest member of Vienna’s trio of opera venues.
- First opened in 1898
- Particularly famous for its operettas, but also hosts opera, musicals, and ballet
- English subtitles for many productions
- See also: Opera in Vienna
The people’s opera house
When you first spot the building, perched on the edge of the busy Gürtel ring road that carries traffic across Vienna, you might think it rather modern. But although younger than the Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien, the Volksoper also possesses a rich cultural history and pedigree; there are no ugly stepchildren in the Viennese family of opera houses.
A brief timeline
The Volksoper opened in 1898 as the Kaiser-Jubiläums-Stadttheater, initially as a theatre dedicated to the spoken word. A report on the 1902/1903 season revealed 16 world premieres for the year as well as a place in the repertoire for an English playwright named William Shakespeare.
The programme soon expanded to other genres, beginning an evolution that led to today’s international reputation as an established venue for opera, operetta, and musicals.
The history is a touch less colourful than that of the Volksoper’s older operatic colleagues, but the institution still has its own claims to fame. For example, the composer, Zemlinsky, once held the position of Musical Director here. And, like the Theater an der Wien, the building provided a temporary home to the bombed-out Staatsoper post-WWII.
In common with the Staatsoper, the Volksoper also hosts a different production each day, an approach made possible by an in-house ensemble, extensive supporting staff, and four rehearsal stages in addition to the main 480m² stage.
Operettas, opera, musicals and ballet form the cornerstones of the repertoire.
So, for example, a random four days in the calendar might start with Orpheus in the Underworld (operetta), followed by Cabaret (musical) and Peter Pan (ballet) the following two nights, before ending with The Magic Flute (opera).
In particular, the Volksoper occupies a respected niche as the home of the operetta, a genre with a strong connection to Vienna and Austria thanks to the works of such luminaries as Johann Strauss Jr. (think of Die Fledermaus) and Franz Lehár (The Merry Widow).
The building’s cultural reach even extends to the silver screen. It played the role of a theatre in Bratislava for the 15th James Bond film, The Living Daylights. It also appeared as itself in the controversial 1974 Italian drama, The Night Porter, alongside Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling.
The stage is topped by a supertitle facility, which displays English subtitles for many of the German-language productions. So both visitors and locals can enjoy the Volksoper performances.
If you do go, consider a post-performance drink in the neighbouring Grand Café am Alsergrund (formerly Theaterpause) with its original 50s decor. I spent a happy late evening there in among the performers of the Puccini opera I’d just watched on the other side of the road.
How to get to the Volksoper
Although not as central as the other two opera houses, one advantage of the Volksoper’s location is the numerous forms of transport that stop more or less outside.
Subway: take the U6 line to the station, Währinger Straße-Volksoper.
Tram/bus: three tram lines leave from the Schottentor station in the centre and stop at Währinger Straße-Volksoper (the 40, 41 and 42). The 40A bus also drops you off at that station.
The station building, with its classic Otto Wagner design, dates back to the old Vienna Stadtbahn city train line that was built around the same time as its operatic companion.
Address: Währinger Straße 78, 1090 Vienna | Website