In German, it’s called the Wiener Staatsoper. In English, it’s Vienna State Opera. This is one of world’s most legendary opera houses. and with 1,709 seats, and room for 567 more standing, it’s also one of the largest. It houses 350 performances every year, making it one of the busiest too.
Fabled composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss have been conductors during the Staatsoper’s long history. When the former was running the big show, it was called the Vienna Court Opera, or more accurately, the Wiener Hofoper, and the country at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Despite vising this incredible city several times, I only recently toured this famous building. It was well worth it. Here’s how it looks.
The Magic Flute
Construction started in 1861 and took eight years. As you’d expect of such a now-famous building, it was instantly beloved by the Viennese. Except, it wasn’t. That adoration came over time.
It was under the tenure of Mahler at the turn of the last century that the Hofoper came into its own, transforming into a more modern performance venue.
The Staatsoper was heavily damaged during WWII. The entrance, stairway and frescos remained intact, but the auditorium and stage, along with thousands of props and costumes, were all destroyed. For the next 10 years the opera performed elsewhere in Vienna while the auditorium was rebuilt. It reopened in 1955, looking largely as it did before the war. The first performance in the rebuilt Staatsoper was Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” which was also broadcast on this new thing called television.
Today, 350 performances every year attract over 600,000 people. Sixty operas and ballets are in the repertoire, sung and danced by 220 singers and 100 dancers. Thirty different conductors drive the show. Behind the scenes, some 200 stage hands make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
Though tickets can be expensive, the Staatsoper actively encourages attendance by everyone. Shortly before each performance you can buy tickets to one of the standing areas. Yes, you’ll need to stand during the entire performance, but these tickets are just a few euros.
All of the standing areas, and all the seats, have LCD screens that display subtitles in multiple languages, since each opera is performed in its original language.
Whether you’re seated, standing or even just on a tour, the Staatsoper is an incredible building with a legendary musical history. Really, Vienna itself is delightful. OK, less so in the winter if you’re not a fan of cold. But in the summer it’s amazing. Year-round the people are incredible too, just a bit more bundled up this time of year.
Seat prices vary per performance. The best seats for the most popular shows and nights can run 273 euros (about $325, £240 or AU£420) but can also be as low as 6 euros. Seats with “sichteinschränkung,” or obstructed view, are on the cheaper side, of course.
Tours run nearly every afternoon and cost 9 euros (about $11, £8 or AU$14). So even if you don’t take in a show, definitely take a tour. If Vienna isn’t in your plans, check out the photos above.
In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including , , and more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter, Instagram and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.