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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.