Part-time traveller, Full-Time Brummie

A Guide to the Vienna State Opera (Are there subtitles? What do I wear?)


A Guide to the Vienna State Opera (Are there subtitles? What do I wear?)

I’ll admit that going to an opera was never really an item on my “must-do” list, but when we booked our anniversary trip to Vienna I thought I’d have a quick look at what was on at the famous Vienna State Opera House. Although there were no shows on the actual night of our anniversary, there were seats in the upper gallery available for the performance of Don Pasquale the night before. For 32 euro a pop, I decided to book.

The ceiling and frescoes of the Vienna State Opera House

The ceiling and frescoes of the Vienna State Opera House

The upper levels of the Vienna State Opera House

Up in the clouds

The Vienna State Opera House

The Vienna State Opera House is quite a spectacular building, both inside and out. It opened in May 1869, after six years of construction, although neither of the architects got to see the finished article, with Eduard van der Nüll committing suicide, and August Sicard von Sicardsburg dying from tuberculosis just ten weeks later. The Opera House was partially destroyed during World War II, but was restored and restructured, eventually reopening in 1955.

The exterior of the Vienna State Opera House, taken from Albertinaplatz

The Vienna State Opera House. Image Source

Things to know about visiting the Vienna State Opera

Can I get cheap tickets on the day? 80 minutes before each performance, a limited number of standing tickets are released. These can be as cheap as €3 if you don’t queuing for an hour or so, and then standing for the 150 minute duration of the performance. It’s definitely a great way to experience the opera if you don’t want to commit to a date in advance or spend mucho euros.

What do I wear to the opera? Whilst there are many that take dressing for the opera very seriously (we saw tuxedos and formal ballgowns), you won’t be thrown out for wearing smart casual attire. Mr Fletche wore a jumper, dark jeans and smart shoes, whereas I wore a black dress and knee-high boots. It seems the higher up in the auditorium you’re seated the more casual you can afford to be… 

Will I know what’s going on? All seats (and standing platforms) have access to subtitle screens with a variety of languages to choose from. One thing to note is that operas tend to be quite “wordy” – so what may be just one sentence on your subtitle screen may be sung over and over again in many different ways. It’s not unfeasible that the same subtitle will be on your screen for five minutes or so…Also the system may crash, as it did to us. Which may well leave you not knowing what’s going on for a while. Just go with the flow and enjoy the music.

The subtitle screen for Don Pasquale at the Vienna State Opera House


Can I get those little binoculars? Yes, opera glasses available at the cloakroom on each level for €2

Do people really shout “Bravo”? Yes. And ovations at the end can go on for hours.

The Performance of Don Pasquale
A view from the Upper Gallery of the opening stage set for Don Pasquale at the Vienna State Opera House

The view from the cheap seats

Ever heard of Don Pasquale? No, me neither. But I’m assured before I go that it is a comedy opera full of charm and warmth. Rather than charming and warm, it’s quite a cruel tale, as a doctor and a spoilt young woman set out on an elaborate plot to fool an elderly cantankerous bachelor into marriage and relieve him of his wealth, driving him batty in the process. There are some great visually comic moments, although situated up in the clouds as we are we have a restricted view of the right-hand side of the stage – typically where all the action is. The moral of the tale seems to be…actually I’m not sure what the moral seems to be, maybe that old men shouldn’t run after younger women? Never trust a doctor who suddenly conjures up a never-mentioned-before-sister from a convent? Don’t be a wet blanket like nephew Ernesto – who laments about drowning himself when he finds out his true love is marrying another? Ernesto’s true love is of course the minx entering into a sham marriage with Don Pasquale himself.

Mr Fletche and I at the Vienna State Opera House

Mr Fletche and I at the Vienna State Opera House

Whatever the moral, it’s an enjoyable – if slightly confusing at times – experience. The staging is simple, almost in the style of a lounge bar, which gets more and more elaborate as Don Pasquale’s new “bride” spends more and more of his money. The exaggerated characteristics of each lead player are clearly and enthusiastically played out, from Norina’s spoilt temper tantrums to Don Pasquale’s despair and Dr Malatesta’s deceit. I’m not an expert in opera music by any degree but vocally the performances sounded clear and controlled, although occasionally overshadowed by the orchestra, conducted by Evelino Pidò. There’s a great vocal duel between Don Pasquale and Malatesta in Act II  which almost sounds like they are reeling off a string of tongue-twisters and this gets a well-deserved encore. The music, whilst unfamiliar, is largely upbeat and stirring.

It’s an entertaining evening, and being in the spectacular State Opera House is almost worth the ticket price alone. Maybe we could have started our opera journey with something a little more familiar to ease us in, but on the whole, it was an unforgettable experience.

Have you ever found yourself experiencing local culture which might be out of your comfort zone? Do you enjoy the opera – what should we see next? Let me know in the comments!

For more information about the Vienna State Opera House, you can visit their website.

Visiting the Vienna State Opera House, November 2017.



29 responses to “A Guide to the Vienna State Opera (Are there subtitles? What do I wear?)”

  1. Well done Em and Mr Fletche for getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new. We have yet to do an Opera and sounds like it would be worth experiencing. May need to do some reading beforehand!

  2. Divyakshi says:

    I have always wanted to attend an opera performance( Not that I would understand anything), but just for being in a room of music enthusiasts and being awestruck at the architecture of the house! 🙂
    The Vienna State Opera House looks fantastic! Though the history behind it is so heartbreaking!
    Your tips were super interesting! I always thought dressing up was a big deal and you could never understand a thing unless you were a regular! What an amusing story.. hehe. I am sure you had a good time and it was all worth it! 🙂 Hope to do this someday!

  3. lakesandlattes says:

    Wow! As cheap at 3 euros!? What a great tip!! I love all these photos and your tips so much! (And I’m just imagining how neat it would be to hear everyone saying “Bravo!” at the end of the performance!)

    Seems like you have a spectacular anniversary trip – thanks for sharing all the insider advice.


    • emfletche says:

      Thanks Malini, I thought shouting “Bravo”was one of these things that just happened in films but no, it really does happen – as do thirty minute standing ovations 🙂

  4. Oh it’s great to know about those subtitled screens, that must make it a lot easier to follow, except when it crashed but otherwise, great to have that!

  5. Dominic says:

    Vienna is a lovely city and chock full of history and culture. Cool that you got to see an opera in the Vienna State Opera House – it’s gorgeous and the Opera quality is top notch. I didn’t realise they released cheaper standing tickets before the show. If you aren’t into Opera you could pop in for a bit for the experience and head out when you are done.

    • emfletche says:

      I think that’s the beauty of the standing tickets, it allows people to sample the opera without having to commit to a whole evening. To be fair, most seemed to return after the intermission which was a good sign 🙂

  6. Ahhh, another activity to add to the list! Would love to see the Opera one day. I can’t believe people still yell out Bravo!! 🙂

  7. Lance says:

    I’m so glad that you got out of your comfort zone and tried something different. Some of the best like experiences come about this way. The opera house looks amazing. I like the fact that there are translation screen at each seat. I have been to opera where the translation (in one language) was broadcast above the stage. I appreciate your writing style and was amused by your ponderings of the moral of the story.

    • emfletche says:

      Thanks Lance! The only issue with the individual screens is that you have to keep adjusting your eyesight from stage to screen… kinda doesn’t allow you to get absorbed!

  8. Katie @ Zen Life and Travel says:

    3 euros is a pretty good deal…although I think I would rather pay more to be able to sit down for the performance!

  9. This is not something I would do either but when you are in another country I don’t think you fully experience it unless you willing to try their traditions or customs related. If I was visiting Vienna its something I would not normally do but for the experience would have. The opera house looks amazing.

  10. The Opera house of Vienna is really iconic. What a grand building. Watching a show here must indeed be a great experience. At the price, this is indeed a windfall as there is no value that can be placed on such an experience.

  11. Vagabond says:

    I have never been to an Opera nor do I know much about opera but after reading your blog I am feeling like I should visit an Opera house at least once. The Vienna Opera House has a rich history and is looking stunning. It should have been a experience to just enter the building!

  12. I can’t imagine having a standing ticket. I don’t think that I would last that long! I visited La Scala earlier this year, but I am sure that the opera house in Vienna is just as beautiful. It certainly looks like it is from your photos!

    • emfletche says:

      They’re actually leaning posts so it’s not so bad! But I preferred paying extra for the comfort of a seat! I’ve seen La Scala from the outside but never went inside 😀

  13. […] about the State Opera House and it’s amazing history. I covered some of this in my recent Vienna State Opera blog. Of course, Mozart is synonymous with Austria; although Salzburg was his birthplace, Vienna […]

  14. April Munday says:

    I love opera. That opera house looks splendid.

    When I lived in London I had access to opera on a fairly regular basis. My big tip is to listen to a recording before you go, reading the summary or the libretto. That way you won’t need to pay too much attention to the surtitles and can focus everything on the stage.

    The first time I went to Covent Garden I fretted over what to wear. On the day it snowed and I just put on something very warm.

  15. Interesting commentary on you experience. How many women were there roughly in the orchestra ?

  16. […] You can read more about our Vienna trip here and here, with a special blog all about visiting the Vienna State Opera here! […]

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