Thursday, April 23, 2009

(No.24) Vienna Without The Third Man

Vienna is a city that for some people of a certain age always recalls the Orson Welles movie of post-war intrigue and bombed ruins.

For me those images intersect with today's Vienna in the State Opera House, a famous structure which will celebrate the 140th anniversary of its first presentation in May this year.

To the extent that serious Opera elitists compete for status and bragging rights I suggest that attending the Vienna State Opera may be an indispensable tool.

Opened in 1869 this magnificent structure was 80% destroyed by bombing in March of 1945.
Rebuilt and reopened in 1955 the Vienna Opera House remains a mecca for opera lovers (of whom I am not one). Its September - June season runs for about 10 months, embraces 60 different productions and 20 casts.


The operas change every night so that those who came to Vienna for, say, 3 nights of opera can see a different production each night. As a result changing the huge sets (for each of 3 acts) is a continuous effort. In fact so large is the stage that it is twice as deep as the auditorium itself, which seats fewer than 2,000.

Demand for tickets is immense and the best seats go for 249 Euros, down to 4 Euros for a standing room spot. The latter can only be purchased (if one is in luck) withing 80 minutes of the performance by those willing to wait in line.

I am told that for every performance of the Vienna State Opera 20 or so gullible tourists show up with invalid tickets they have purchased on the street and are turned away.

There are large public rooms on 3 sides of the theatre itself where attendees can gather, contemplate busts of worthies like Strauss and have drinkies. They became smoke-free only in September last year, rather late to become politically correct.

The place absolutely reeks of cultural status. Busts of Gustav Mahler, the director from 1897 to 1907, remind today's Staatsoper audiences and performers of who was (and is) who in the world of opera.