You’re in London…or Milan…or Vienna … and you suddenly have the urge to take in an opera, or an orchestral concert.
You know (because it’s true) that tickets to some of the great concert halls of Europe are expensive, and often are sold out months in advance.
So what do you do?
Plan A is to call your hotel’s concierge desk. These service-oriented professionals often have good connections and can sometimes score a pair of tickets to an opera or a concert on short notice. But even if they’re successful, the price is liable to be steep.
Plan B is to try and score a last-minute ticket on your own. It’s tricky, takes some effort and there’s no guarantee of success…but it can be done. Most concert halls in Europe sell standing room tickets, resell tickets their patrons can’t use, and offer same-day discounts to various groups, such as students and seniors.
Here are some of the ins and outs of the process.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
On the schedule this spring: Verdi’s La traviata (March 1-19), Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov (March 14-April 5), Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (April 7-May 19) and Enescu’s Oedipe (May 23-June 8).
Ticket prices on the ROH’s website (www.roh.org.uk) go as high as ￡240. You may be able to find some cheaper tickets from the house, but these tend to be limited sight seats way up in the nosebleed section, or tucked away on the sides.
The ROH occasionally sells standby tickets at half price. These will go on sale at the box office four hours before the production. For availability, call the box office the day of the performance or check the website. These standby seats will most often be located in the stalls section, the main seating section, which are the most expensive, so even half-off tickets might be pricey.
Students can sign up for and obtain ￡10 student standby tickets, released on the day of the performance. There are also “student booking” days, usually a week before a performance, in which a handful of tickets are released at very low prices.
Standing room tickets are sold along with the regular tickets, and are located in the stalls circle, balcony (restricted view), lower slips (restricted view), and amphitheater. Tickets range from
￡6-11. Starting at 10 a.m. on the day of the performance, the line forms under the covered arcade in the corner of Covent Garden Piazza.
Teatro La Scala, Milan, Italy
On the schedule this season: The Two Foscari by Verdi (Feb 25-March 25), Puccini’s The Girl of the West (May 3-28).
The Italians take their opera seriously. Many of the most famous works in the oeuvre were written by Italian composers or debuted in Milan’s famous La Scala concert hall. Tickets to the main seating area, or in one of the fancy boxes that wrap around the theater in tiers can cost upwards of €500 each. And concertgoers to La Scala are expected to dress appropriately (men in coat and tie, no jeans or shorts).
Can you still find a stray ticket or a cheap seat? Yes, with qualifications.
Any tickets unsold either by the theater’s website or box office are sent to a secondary box office in Milan’s Duomo metro station one month before the performance. There is no discount for these tickets, but there will not be a markup, either, which might not be the case for tickets available through a broker or other reseller.
Two hours before each performance, some 140 numbered tickets are sold (€10) for the standing-room section, known as the loggione. The standing section is atop the galleries, way up in the nosebleed section, and the sight lines are somewhat limited. But for hardcore opera fans, the price is right just to get inside this famous old (1778) theater.
Finally, one hour before the show starts, if there are any tickets left they’re available as “last minute” sales at the La Scala theatre box office at a roughly 25% discount from face-value.
Vienna State Opera, Vienna, Austria
Scheduled operas this season, in March: Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Verdi’s Aida, and Puccini’s La Boheme.
In April: Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, Janacek’s Jenufa, Puccini’s Tosca, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
In May: Puccini’s Turandot, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudunov, Wagner’s Lohengrin.
In June: Verdi’s Don Carlo, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Verdi’s MacBeth, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and Gluck’s Alceste.
This most musical city in Europe has hosted all the greats, from Mozart to Strauss, and the Weiner Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera House) is ground zero.
Standing-room tickets (often as many as 600) for each performance are sold 80 minutes before the show starts (the standing room box office is on the western side of the Opera, (on the opposite side of the building from the gift shop). Prices are either €3 or €4 depending on the section. Each customer may purchase just one ticket, so if you’re taking someone, they have to get in line as well.
The best sight lines (many think even better than the high-paying customers in the seats) are in the Parterre section, directly behind the main seating section on the floor of the theater. Other standing areas are the Balkon (higher up and to the sides) and the Galerie (you’ll need your opera glasses up here).
While the box office for an 8 p.m. performance opens at about 6:30 p.m, many concertgoers will start queuing hours earlier, depending on the popularity of the opera being performed, and the artists who will be singing.
Just remember when they say “standing room” they mean you’ll be on your feet for the entire opera. That might be a bit daunting if its, say, one of Wagner’s epic cycles. But if you’ve paid just €3 for your ticket and your feet get tired, no one will care if you decide to leave at halftime!
Discount and standing-room ticket offers are roughly the same at Europe’s other famous opera, ballet and concert halls, including the Paris Opera; Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy; Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany; Swedish Royal Opera in Stockholm; La Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium and the Estates Opera in Prague.