Incredible facts about the Vienna State Opera

Maria Sergeeva
December 7, 2017

One of the leading opera houses in the world, the Vienna State Opera, or Wiener Staatsoper, was completed in 1869 by architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll. Holding the title for the most productions per year and notorious for its outstanding performances, the Vienna Opera sells out nearly every night. 

BEAM now looks at how this institution, completely rebuilt following the second World War, never repeats a performance two nights in a row, sells tickets from as low as €3 up to several thousand and manages its stage, the largest in Western Europe.

Vienna Opera achieves 99.02% ticket sales

According to its annual report, in the 2014/15 season, a total of 361 performances were watched by a total of 598,951 visitors. The 284 performances on the main stage of the Wiener Staatsoper filled 99.02% of its seating capacity on average.

The season included eleven premieres (opera, ballet, and children’s opera) and 63 different works as well as four tours. The Opera's budget for the year was no less than €111.67m, of which state subsidy contributed €59.48m. Ticket revenues then hit a record €34 million.

Vienna Opera never repeats a performance two nights in a row

The Vienna Opera has 70 productions a year and never repeats a performance two nights in a row. With one exception: it’s tradition to perform Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, about a New Year’s Eve party in Vienna, both on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — the only time a performance is repeated two nights in a row. The opera solos are professionals who sing without microphones and need to fill the whole auditorium with their voices. They lose up to 3 kilograms of weight which is actually water, not fat.

The rule not to repeat the same opera even two times in a row implies that the decorations must be changed every day which is unusual for most operas around the world. This leads to its own set of challenges.

Behind the stage, on the other side of the theater, facing the famous Hotel Sacher, there is a large gate, which lets enter trucks bringin the numerous decorations. The most "heavy" performance  is Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg). Its scenery is carried by 35 trucks. The "lightest" is "Nabucco" by Verdi, only three trucks.

To plan a theater season, not only the total of decorations and equipment is important, but also how quickly they can be installed. Now, for example, when the rehearsals of the new play the "Magic Flute" take part, Donizetti's "Love Potion" or Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" are scheduled in the evening , just because the decorations can be set in 2-3 hours.

The Vienna Opera also has more than 180,000 costumes, housed in a building next door that is connected by an underground tunnel.
The stage doesn’t exactly appear small — it’s 88 feet high — but behind the curtain it’s four times the size of the massive auditorium. The ginormous stage allows for different sets to rotate using hydraulic lifts that require so much power the Vienna Opera has two of its own substations.

The great fire

About six weeks before the end of the Second World War, on March 12, 1945, the Viena State Opera was set on fire by the American Army Air Force.

Only the front section and the main stairways remained intact. The stage and the auditorium, however, were completely destroyed, as were almost all the decorations and about 150,000 costumes.  They say it was cold and all the water froze in the theater, so there was nothing to extinguish the fire.

The opera house was rebuilt in 1955 by Erich Boltenstern who followed the original design; the interior however was modernized and the main auditorium is now less ornate.

The Secretary of State for Public Works, Julius Raab, announced on May 24, 1945, that reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera would begin immediately.

On November 5, 1955, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernized technology. Under the direction of Karl Böhm, Beethoven’s Fidelio was brilliantly performed, and the opening ceremonies were broadcast by Austrian television.
Looking at the front of the building from the Ring Road, one can see the original structure that has been preserved since 1869.

The largest stage in Western Europe

There was some luck in this misfortune. After the restoration, the scene was enlarged and modernized. We would never see the modern performances as they are now without new technologies.

The scene of the Viennese opera is the largest in Western Europe. The stage is four times the size of the auditorium. The length of the main stage is 50 meters.  Behind the main stage, a depth of 24 meters, there are now 23 meters of arjetsenna, , on the side, there is the side stage. All scenes are mobile, and replace each other without almost any noise during the performance which lets change decorations in less than 30 seconds.

Under the main stage at a depth of 11.5 meters there are another 500 square meters of service space. A stage box rises to 27 meters which is equal to the height of a five-story building.

The most famous ball is held in the Vienna State Opera

Vienna has over 300 balls each year, typically held from January through March. The most famous ball is Opernball which has been held at the Vienna State Opera since 1877.

Once a year, Wiener Staatsoper turns into the world’s most beautiful and elegant ball room for the Vienna Opera Ball. It is an internationally renowned a high-key social event, the ball of all balls, much-copied around the world.

Famous businessmen and politicians from all over the world usually attend the ball. The opera ball receives media coverage from a range of outlets.

The first ball festivities may not have been at the Royal and Imperial Court Opera Theater next to the Kärntner gate. Legend has it that the artists that worked on this stage organized a celebration in honor of the Vienna Congress (1814 – 1815).

Today, opera and ballet stars, the orchestra of Wiener Staatsoper and the Vienna State Ballet all contribute to the glamorous opening, and many millions of spectators will be watching on their screens how the 150 young couples forming the young ladies and young men’s committee make their dream come true and dance the first polonaise on this unique ballroom floor. After that, it’s Alles Walzer or “Let the waltz begin!“

Photo by Lifestyle Boutique

Figures and facts about the ball would surprise you. The last ball received  5,150 ball guests and 144 debutant couples. More than 40,000 glasses, 1,000 tablecloths, 4,000 pieces of cutlery and 600 champagne coolers were used during the evening. 1,300 bottles of sparkling wine and champagne, 900 bottles of wine, 900 bottles of beer were drunk.

The guests enjoyed 2,500 pairs of sausages, 1,000 petits fours and sandwiches, 1,300 goulash soups which required 320 catering staff during the ball. Approximately  1.46 million TV spectators watched the performance. It took 30 hours for converting the opera house into a ball room, 21 hours for dismantling which required 350 skilled workers and 150 auxiliaries during the conversion phase.

In Vienna Opera, what the opera is about

The spectators are provided with subtitles in several languages. The Vienna Opera is one of three opera houses in the world (with New York City and Santa Fe) proposing individual subtitle screens with selectable languages, including Spanish, French, Russian, English and German during the most of operas, German and English being available during each performance .

Everyone can afford a ticket

The whole idea behind the prices to enjoy operas and ballets in Wiener Staatsoper  is something very much ingrained in Viennese culture: everyone, including the poor, should have access to the arts.
The prices start from 3 euros for standing room tickets to 250 euros for a place in the front row.

Standing room tickets, as their name implies, are tickets where you can stand inside the opera house to watch a performance. These tickets go on sale the day of a performance only 80 minutes before showtime.
It is the only opera house in the world to offer 567 standing room spaces every evening.

Note, for some performances, mostly  around  Christmas time are sold out by the previous July. Anyway, you could always get standby tickets which are never sold earlier than 80 minutes before the performance.

Photo by mostly opera

You can rent ceremonial rooms of Wiener Staatsoper for your event

The state rooms of Wiener Staatsoper (Schwind Foyer, Gustav Mahler Hall, Marble Hall, Tea Salon) can be rented for events during daytime. On closure days, these premises are available also for evening events.

Guests attending an opera or ballet performance can rent the Tea Salon, which is usually not accessible, for use one hour before curtain, during the interval, and after the performance.

Rates for  the Tea Salon start from 500 euros for Pre-performance and 1050 euros for Interval(s) and post-performance.  As for the Schwind Foyer, Marble Hall or Gustav Mahler Hall in combination with attending a performance, it will cost you  2500 euros.

In the tea room Emperor Franz Joseph used to sip tea. Roped off from the public, the tea room is decorated with the golden silk embroidered wall panels boasting the emperor’s monogram. Austrian coats-of-arms also make up the pattern. On the ceiling the allegorical figure of Music, perched on an eagle and holding a lyre, ascends toward Heaven.

Touring the Opera House

Even if you're not interested in attending one of opera or ballet performances, you can visit the Staatsoper on an approximately forty minute during guided tour. You could take a glimpse behind the scenes of the world’s largest repertoire theater and discover many things that remain hidden from the evening audience as Tea Salon, Marble Hall or Schwind Foyer which are closed during performances.

The guided visits are offered in German, English and Spanish and cost from 4 to 9,00 €