5 tips for going to the opera… at least in Vienna

My mom has been dreaming of taking me to the opera for ages.  She gave my husband and me tickets 2 years ago as a gift for the holidays and sent us to New York to go to the Met.  Unfortunately, my husband came down with a slight case of sepsis, socked in pneumonia, and atrial fibrillation, and ended up in the hospital in New York for a week, but you know, no biggie…  On the day we were supposed to go to the opera, I woke up to find him panting, with sweat beading on his forehead, heart rate of 130 and with a temp of 40′ Celsius…  So, I had an inkling that something was off and took him to the ED.  Actually, it’s pretty funny how common sense goes right out the window when it’s your family.  I’m like, oh, honey, you’re a little tachycardic.  Do you have a PE?  No, you freaking moron.  He has a fever and is coughing up rusty phlegm; he has a pneumonia.  And you call yourself an internist!  (I call myself a gastroenterologist, actually, but technically speaking, at the time I was boarded in internal medicine too, although now I’ve been lapsed for about 6 weeks, so I’m not an internist any more.)


In the ED, they put him in the hall at first because they didn’t quite believe that a strapping young buck of mere 47 years could be all that ill, but when they saw that he was barely hitting 90% on room air, and that he had something like 20% bands (that’s bad), they put him in a room.  The doctor who was attending to him turned out to be a big opera fan, and she said, “Oh!  Turandot!  What a great opera!  You MUST go.  Just leave him here, he’ll be fine, and go enjoy the opera!”

“Yes, leave… me…. here…” said my husband, taking shallow wheezing breaths between words, and weakly lifting his head about an inch off the pillow before dropping back down, spent. “Enjoy…. your… day…. my… love….”

I thought about it, I won’t lie.  But in the end the opera tickets were given away to a stranger on the internet.  And it’s not like we can just decide to go the next weekend because kids and jobs and soccer practice and stuff.

But now!  My mom’s dream finally became reality, albeit without the husband (who knows if he’d like it anyway, amirite)!  She got opera tickets for the Vienna Opera, and La Traviata, no less – I mean, if you’re going to watch an opera, might as well be La Traviata.  That’s what you see when you open a dictionary to look up “Opera.”  It’s what Richard Gere took Julia Roberts to see in Pretty Woman, so you know it must be good!!  Or, it could be the only opera the maker of the movie knew.  Which, by the way, also gives it credit.

It was AWESOME, although, I wish that they had the lavish costumes and sets you come to expect from the opera, but this particular production was kind of minimalist and modern.  I especially liked it when “Violetta Traviata” was written in graffiti across the back wall of the set, and as she was suffering from her broken heart and tuberculosis downstage, Alfredo, who would have been in the process of forgiving her at the moment, erased the insulting words with a classroom eraser upstage.  So symbolic, right?  Like, she’s not traviata any more as she’s been elevated to hero status in death.  However, it was a little wrong because after he completely erased her off the wall, they still dragged her around the stage for at least 15 minutes until finally she sang her death aria and gave up the ghost.

But the voices, the music, the atmosphere!  oooh la la.

So, without further ado, here are my tips for you if you ever find yourself at the Wiener Staatoper.

1.  Set a price point

Opera in the U.S. is a past-time for the rich and hoity toity, but in Europe, it’s not quite as exclusive.  It’s definitely not a cheap event, but it’s more on the level of… I dunno, going to see a musical off Broadway.  And when I was growing up in Russia, the opera, ballet, and theater were all dirt cheap, and we used to go regularly.  You can get in to see the opera here for as little as 2-6 Euro.  I mean, if you’re a music lover, and you want to get a feel for the experience, you can get standing room tickets for that cheap!  You can!  Then, if you’re bored and start snoring, you won’t feel bad leaving!  Win-win!  Show up early, and wait in line.  They open the box office 2 hours or so before the showtime, but there is usually a line well before that.  When my mom called for tickets she basically told the lady, “I was thinking of spending $150 per ticket, what do you have?”  and the lady suggested seats, which brings me to the next point…

2. Pick the best seats you can afford

Will you be sitting in the orchestra?  Probably not – that’s still mighty expensive, probably around 250 Euro.  So, remember, it is better to sit higher up but in the first row of your section than it is to sit lower but further back.  Our lady suggested tickets up in the gallery in the first row for $120 instead of the back of the balcony for $150.

3. Wear whatever you want

I saw people there in ripped jeans (though they were outliers, and looked like they straggled in by mistake), and people in lavish ballgowns.  There was one lady who, I think, was taking her wedding dress out for a breather, because she was wearing this magnificent silk embroidered white gown – and you know what, why the hell not.  Most people, however, were wearing cocktail attire, and the men wore jackets.  But you do you.

4.  Wikipedia what your opera is about

All the seats are now equipped with personal little screens, like on an airplane if you’re flying SouthWest, that will show you the English translation of what they’re singing.  It’ll be like 15 minutes of singing “LaLalala LaLalala” and the prompter will read, “It is lovely to see you again.”  That’s because they’re probably singing “It’s lovely to see you.. .So lovely to see you, so lovely, so lovely, so lovely to see you again, so lovely, again and again, to see you, to see you it is…” and so on.  I mean, they have to make a show, right?  But what I’m getting at is that it is distracting to have to read the prompter all the time.  And you don’t need to know exactly what they’re singing.  So, google the plot so you roughly know what’s going on and concentrate on the performance.

5. Reserve a table at the cafe

This is the most important piece of advice I can give you!  Pay attention!  The MOST fun part of going to the opera is rushing to the cafe area during intermission to get a snack and/or drink.  Usually, there is a mob, and a long line, and what will happen is you’ll rush down from your seat up in the gallery and get in line, and when you’re about to be like, “I’ll have your best and cheapest champagne…” the 3 bells will ring and it will be time to go back.  HOWEVER. Before the performance starts, you can actually go up to the buffet server, and reserve a table.  You make the order, and pay for it, and when you come out during intermission, the table is set for you and you just sit and enjoy.  I really wish they had a similar set up for the loo so you can reserve yourself a “seat,” but, here, same as anywhere in the world, the ladies have to wait in line that wraps around the block to pee.  Sorry, but that’s the way of the world.

Now, if you’re not looking at traveling, and don’t find yourself with the occasion to go to the opera, I suggest you watch the following video.  It’s only 8 minutes long, and it’s basically the same thing.  Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “5 tips for going to the opera… at least in Vienna

  1. Firstly. A shame what happened to your husband. I hope he has fully recovered
    And secondly I’ve only recently started going to the theatres trying to do the whole culture thing. So will use these tips. Thanks
    Brilliant post. Enjoyed reading that. Your way with words is fantastic.


    1. Thank you! I wouldn’t be writing a humorous post if he didn’t recover. He is great, and probably relieved that he didn’t have to go to the Opera. 🤦🏻‍♀️🤣


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