What I Learned Going to the Vienna State Opera Alone
After being laid off from my job last September, I decided to spend December traveling alone for the holidays throughout Europe to reassess my life and experience the holidays in a new place. I arrived in London and spent a little over a week in England, took the train to Paris for a few days and then booked a one-way flight to Vienna for Christmas.
Once I checked into my room at the hostel in Vienna, dropped off my belongings and ordered a beer at the hostel bar, I settled in for the evening by meeting travelers from all over the world, many of whom were already toward the end of their trip and getting ready to leave Vienna. While I was a bit sad that we were ships passing in the night, I figured I could learn from their adventures.
I was surprised to learn that I could attend an opera at the Wiener Staatsoper, or the Vienna State Opera, for less than five euros for standing room tickets bought on the same day. Everyone I met at the hostel had either already seen the opera or were toward the end of their trip, but I didn’t let that deter me and decided to go alone.
Every time I became self-conscious about being alone at an opera drinking a glass of wine, I focused on the view and how thankful I was to be here.
I checked the opera schedule and decided to go the next evening on my first full day in Vienna, when Mozart’s famous opera, The Magic Flute, was being performed. After spending the day on a walking tour, I found the queue for standing tickets of the opera house and lined up around 5 p.m., about two hours before the opera began. The standing room ticket office opened 80 minutes before curtain, but because I was going to a popular opera the Saturday before Christmas, it was recommended that I get to Operngasse two hours in advance.
Even then, the line had already wrapped around the building, and I waited alone in the cold weather. I worried that even though the Vienna State Opera offered 567 standing room spaces every evening — the only opera house in the world to do so — I might have arrived too late to grab a place.
However, I needn’t have worried because the line started moving quickly. There were different options available for standing room spaces including ground floor, balcony or gallery for €3 or €4. I bought a €3 ticket on the balcony with exact change, and proceeded to coat check. I’d been told to bring a scarf to tie around the banister, and once I found the balcony spaces I could see why.
The process was first-come, first-served and people who had reserved their positions already had their scarves tied across the railings. I walked around, scoping for a spot, and eventually found one in the back row with a decent view of the stage and tied my scarf there. Once I secured my scarf I had the freedom to walk around and take photos of the opera house at my own pace.
While I felt awkward at first, I decided there was nothing else I could do but embrace the circumstances. Most people weren’t even looking at my boots, anyway.
Most people taking pictures of the halls seemed to be there with friends or family and were dressed in elegant tuxedos and dresses. The Vienna State Opera had a dress code, and I’d hoped wearing an all-black ensemble with tan boots would suffice. I wished I had room for a little black dress or a pair of black heeled boots to match the elegant place, but I’d simply run out of room in my carry-on bag.
While I felt awkward at first, I decided there was nothing else I could do but embrace the circumstances. Most people weren’t even looking at my boots, anyway. There were more interesting things to look at, like the stunning paintings and beautiful interior.
Back at my standing space, I realized a bit too late that my row didn’t have its own subtitle monitor. The group of women in front of me chose English subtitles so I was able to follow along. By standing on my tiptoes for part of the performance and shifting from side to side, I had a pretty good vantage point. For only €3, the view wasn’t bad.
The Vienna State Opera had a dress code, and I’d hoped wearing an all-black ensemble with tan boots would suffice. I wished I had room for a little black dress or a pair of black heeled boots to match the elegant place. But, I’d simply run out of room in my carry-on bag.
During intermission, I left my scarf tied to the banister and went and ordered a glass of wine. I love people-watching when I’m traveling solo. Every time I became self-conscious about being alone at an opera drinking a glass of wine, I focused on the view and how thankful I was to be here. I’ve traveled to various cities and countries alone, but I hadn’t managed to spend an elegant evening alone at an opera until that night in Vienna.
After the intermission, a few audience members had left. Of course, standing for hours wasn’t ideal, but my boots (that I’d felt self-conscious in earlier) actually made the experience quite comfortable. While I stood in the standing section and watched the performance alone, everyone in the audience was watching the opera, together, so maybe I wasn’t quite so alone after all.
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