How to Attend the Opera: When in Vienna, Do as the Viennese Do

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The Vienna State Opera House

You can experience the Vienna Opera like a true aristocrat.

Attending an opera has always been about much more than the opera itself, particularly in a Vienna opera house. There’s a sense of decorum, of history, of being a part of an exclusive club. The satisfaction of knowing you’re part of an elite group of music lovers based in one of Europe’s most important cultural capitals is at the core of a true Viennese opera experience.

The trick to enjoying yourself is knowing what to do, how to do it, and having the confidence which comes with true experience. If you’re wondering how to dress, behave, get the best tickets, and visit the opera just like a Viennese native, just keep reading.

We’ll share all of this and more in order to help you prepare for an unforgettable, classy evening. After all, there’s nothing quite like experiencing Vienna like a local.

Finding Vienna Opera Tickets Like a True Local

There are two basic ways to acquire tickets to the opera. The truest local experience comes with purchasing a season ticket, though for most visitors, buying individual tickets is the more logical option.

So how do you find the best deal without a lot of hassle?

Tickets officially go on sale two months before a performance, though waiting lists generally start well before then. One technique is to pay a surcharge to a company which will guarantee your tickets. Alternatively, you can call directly when the tickets go on sale and hope you’ll score a seat with a bit of luck.

Overall, the best local advice here is to plan ahead. Pick your opera and decide how you’re going to buy your tickets and you can rest assured you should be able to reliably create a perfect evening at the Vienna opera. Even if you encounter a SOLD OUT sign, there are still ways for you tо get seats for the performance.

How to Dress for an Opera Evening in Vienna

Vienna opera intermission.

You shouldn’t worry too much about the dress code, just avoid being too informal.
AHLN / Foter / CC BY

The dress code can be a real concern for many, especially anyone flying to Vienna on vacation with concerns about how to fit everything in their luggage. The good news is that the era of the black tie and formal gown is over. Still, there are some general guidelines you should follow if you’d like to feel comfortable.

The overall rule is to look presentable and avoid showing up in travel attire. A sport coat and a pair of slacks should be just fine for any performance. A nice blouse with slacks or a semi-formal dress would also be a good choice for the ladies.

Still, dressing up can be half the fun of going to the opera! So if possible, feel free to wear that stunning dress or suit you rarely have the chance to show off.

After all, you’ll likely be in the presence of genuine aristocracy. Why not embrace it?

Opera Behavior 101

The rules of behavior in a Viennese opera house more or less mimic those for attire: be polite and considerate, but don’t worry too much about being formal. The rules of the opera are similar to most performances. You should limit your perfume or cologne and keep quiet during the performance.

And one very, very important note: being on time is crucial. Many tourists end up missing half the performance simply because they arrive a minute late — don’t fall into this category! Vienna opera houses follow strict rules and close the doors as soon as the performance begins, and it always begins right on time.  This is also valid for the beginning of the second act.

So make sure you get to the venue early, find your seats ten minutes ahead of time, and during the intermission, keep a close watch on the clock and get back to your spot before the curtain opens. With a bit of preparation and careful attention, you can ensure that your classy opera evening will go as planned and you’ll be able to enjoy every note that sounds, without missing a beat.

In addition, there are some specific rules for clapping. It’s customary to clap when the conductor comes on stage and perhaps at the end of a particularly spectacular aria. Clapping after each song is not acceptable. Of course, you should clap at the end of the performance as well — just make sure you wait until the final note has completely finished.

In general, take your cues from those around you and enjoy yourself.

Speaking the Language

The Vienna Opera House entryway.

You certainly don’t need to be a linguist to enjoy a beautiful opera.
SteFou! / Foter / CC BY

Importantly, you don’t have to speak German or the language of the particular opera to enjoy a spectacular evening. The opera is an international art form and a Viennese opera house has always been an international environment. Fortunately, nearly all opera houses in Vienna offer subtitles in German and English.

However, if possible, it’s always best to familiarize yourself with an opera before seeing it. Trust us, this won’t ruin the performance. In fact, the deeper your understanding of the story, the more you can appreciate the subtleties of an individual performance and the art of opera in general.

This is why being a local who attends often is perhaps the best way to fully appreciate the opera.

Creating the Perfect Night of Viennese Opera

In the end, what matters most is enjoying yourself. Whether that means coming to the opera in true aristocratic style or simply coming for the first time to begin your love affair with this beautiful art form, use this guide and you’ll be sure to have a wonderful evening out.

Of course, if you want the easiest possible method of getting the best possible tickets, book them now with Concert Vienna.

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Eric Halsey

Eric is a writer, traveler, historian, and music lover who's spent the past few years based in Budapest and Sofia. Over several trips to Vienna, his fascination with opera has only grown. In particular, he always enjoys seeing The Marriage of Figaro and Macbeth.