By Stephanie Rhodes and Whitney Evans
VIENNA, Austria—The Viennese take their opera seriously, but even those without serious money can attend one of Europe’s finest cultural events.
Austria is home to magnificent cultural and architectural attractions with the opera occupying the place of something like the nation’s pastime. While nice seats at the opera can cost the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars, the Vienna State Opera House offers the standing section — costing only three or four euros (roughly $6) — as a viable alternative for those who have tighter wallets. Locals caution against going to Wagner and other long operas for those who decide to choose the standing section.
The four euro section is directly behind the seated audience on the main floor, giving standing spectators a clear view of the stage. The cheaper standing sections are on the higher levels.
According to locals, in the past women and men viewed the opera in separate locations, at least in the standing sections. The women were on the higher levels and the men were on the lower. Local lore says one person who frequented the male standing section of the opera was a young Adolph Hitler.
The future Führer tried to make a living as an artist in Vienna by selling his hand-drawn post cards after being rejected from an art school. He also reportedly spent long periods of time at a nearby Vienna café.
People from all over the world get in line an hour and a half before the nightly opera performances and wait in anticipation of getting a standing spot with a good view. Once the ticket booth opens, opera enthusiasts rush with ticket in hand to stake their claim.
The performance hall is located past a corridor decorated with statues, vaulted ceilings and granite staircases. Inside the theater, tiered rows separated by red velvet-topped railings make up the standing section. After a brief wait, the corralled opera goers receive instructions in both English and German on how to claim a spot and when to return to the theater.
Ticket holders can then mark their respective spots with scarves or jackets, and the unlucky few who neglect to bring these items have the option of using a program or other hastily procured item.
Many people take advantage of the moment to take a picture of the grandiose stage surrounded by rows of sweeping boxes overlooking the stage as cameras are strictly forbidden during the performance. At this point many leave to rest before their two-hour-long stand.
Cafes are available inside the opera house and in the surrounding area. Outside the opera house opera-goers stroll past decorative fountains and sidewalks reminiscent of Hollywood Boulevard, but the sidewalk stars here boast the names and signatures of great composers rather than movie stars or famous athletes.
The Vienna State Opera offers a different show each evening. On a recent visit by The Daily Universe, the opera “Kátjia Kabanová” was performed under the direction of conductor Franz Wesler-Müst.
This opera is set in contemporary times and contains all the drama an opera should — betrayal, cruelty, love and the death of its heroine. The attendees, some toting binoculars, came in their finest. They seemed captivated by the music, performance and elaborate changing sets as shouts of “Bravo!” echoed through the hall between acts.
The elaborate Russian singing was conveniently translated into German or English on panels attached to the velvet railings in the standing section. The railings proved useful not only for their translation panels but also to lean on for a bit of comfort during the performance.
After the conclusion of “Kátjia Kabanová,” cast members came out several times for collective and individual applause. The loudest applause went to Wesler-Müst, who Austrians say looks like the famous composer Mahler.
The applause eventually faded as members of the audience collected their scarves, jackets and programs and headed out into a beautiful Austrian summer evening.