Nightlife in Vienna: concerts and operas

by diane.naar.elphee

It is no exaggeration to call Vienna the music capital of the world. Whether it's opera, operetta, concert or musical, there are venues offering something for everyone.

The Vienna State Opera is one of the best in the world and, although the new director Dominique Meyer sticks to the tradition of changing performances every night, 300 nights of the year, from September to the end of June, he has already shown bravado by staging some rarities: Hindemith's Cadillac was a tremendous success, as was Händel's Alcina which was performed in this house for the first time ever. With roughly 50 operas and 20 ballets staged throughout the season, opera-goers are spoiled for choice. The new music director Franz Welser-Most has also brought a breath of fresh air into the House on the Ring. Performances are screened live, for free, on the square directly outside the Opera in May, June, September and October (Opernring 2; 01 51444-2250; www.staatsoper.at).

Volksoper

Running a season very similar to the big sister above, the Volksoper stages roughly 30 productions 300 times a year. Operettas, operas, musicals and ballets are all of a very high standard, nevertheless, tickets are much cheaper than in the State Opera. Most shows are sung in German

Volksoper: Währinger Strasse 78; 01 51444-3670; www.volksoper.at.

Theater an der Wien

Although its career as an opera house started in 1801 (Fidelio was first staged here) it had been debased by musicals until a few years ago. On the anniversary of Mozart's 250th birthday, 2006, it was reclaimed for the world of opera. The success has been so tremendous that it was recently ranked as one of the best houses in the world! The building is a jewel and performances are of the highest standard. From baroque to modern contemporary opera, this theatre offers a wonderful variety for opera-lovers. Cecilia Bartoli's recent performance in Händel's Semele was heaven on earth for me.

Theater an der Wien: Linke Wienzeile 6; 01 58830-200; www.theater-wien.at.

Wiener Kammeroper – Vienna Chamber Opera

This might be the smallest of the city's opera houses but should by no means be ignored. Baroque classics and contemporary works – in February the British composer Harrison Birtwhistle's contribution can be seen – are shown on a small stage. The performers that sing here are often the stars of tomorrow.

Wiener Kammeroper: Fleischmarkt 24; 01 51201-0077; www.wienerkammeroper.at.

Concerts

And when it comes to concerts one is really spoiled for choice. Vienna's two main houses are Musikverein and Konzerthaus.

When at home the Philharmonic Orchestra performs in the beautiful Golden Hall, considered by many to be the best concert hall in the world. World famous conductors and the very best orchestras perform here too. Tickets are always hard to come by, especially when the house orchestra performs. A recent conversion of the basement space gave this music temple an extra four halls where contemporary music can be heard. The Musikverein is located on Bösendorferstrasse 12; 01 5058190. For more information on what's on and how to get tickets see www.musikverein.at.

The main gilded hall, in Vienna's Art Nouveau styled Konzerthaus, sees a younger, more adventurous audience attending concerts and it's here where you can often hear forgotten works: Meyerbeer's Emma di Resburgo was staged in November 2010. Besides the classical music of Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven and Haydn you can hear Renaissance rarities, contemporary classics and progressive music from all over the world. This is the home of the Vienna Symphony (Lothringerstrasse 20; 01 242002; www.konzerthaus.at).

Not everyone is a classical music maniac – so if you're new to the scene, why not try one of the smaller venues for a taste of well known Johann Strauss tunes and some magical Mozart music? Below are just three options that you might try. Don't worry about tickets for these concerts: as soon as you get anywhere near the centre of Vienna you'll be approached by people, dressed like Mozart, selling tickets.

Johann Strauss would perform regularly at the Kursalon in the Stadtpark. Today, concerts that include  excerpts from his most famous works, are given on a daily basis. Lasting for about 90 minutes, with a glass of sparkling wine served during the intermission, these concerts are very popular with tourist groups (www.soundofvienna.at).

In the Orangerie of Schönbrunn Palace musicians in historic costumes perform well known works from Mozart and the Strauss family every day at 8.30 pm (www.imagevienna.com).

And more of these Viennese classics can be heard in the Palais Auersperg. A little Beethoven, Mozart and operetta music is performed accompanied by ballet dancers (www.wro.at).

Some of Vienna's best coffee houses offer piano music in the afternoon and evening. So if you don't want to buy a concert ticket, but you would like to hear a little "sound of Vienna", then head to one of the concert cafés for some light piano music. Café Schwarzenberg is easy to find at Kärntner Ring 17, opposite the Imperial Hotel (www.cafe-schwarzenberg.at).

And for the sound of operetta why not head to my favourite hang out? Café Sperl is perfect for a Sunday afternoon serving of Lehar and Kalman – both were former regulars in this house (Gumpendorferstrasse 11; www.cafesperl.at).

More nightlife

Visit my overview on Vienna nightlife or read my other guides: Nightlife in Vienna: come and have a ball! and Nightlife in Vienna: music for everyone.

Where to stay

For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Vienna, see Vienna Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Vienna.

diane.naar.elphee

As a local guide and Vienna expert I’ve spent many years sharing my passion for this city with visitors from all over the world.

I started writing about  Vienna a few years ago for Fodor’s. I now regularly update and write for travel guides including, among others, National Geographic/Spirallo, DuMont, Baedeker, Marco Polo and Polyglott.

Leaving  Yorkshire to come to Vienna decades ago was the start of 30 years of exciting global travel: I lived in Spain, spent months in Brazil, crossed South Africa, New Zealand, India and Japan. I’ve seen most of the USA, S.E Asia and China but today my trips keep me closer to home. I love Italy and Switzerland. And when I’m back in Vienna you’ll probably find me in one of the many art museums, comfortable coffee houses or concert halls - apropos music: sometimes it’s hard to choose which performance to go to there’s always so much on.

My Vienna

Where I always grab a coffee: Café Sperl at Gumpendorferstrasse 11. For an excellent café melange, meeting friends or perusal of various broadsheets, this is my home from home.

My favourite stroll: this might sound a little morbid but I love to stroll through cemeteries, especially Vienna's huge Zentralfriedhof. The commemorative graves of Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Salieri and Mozart – to name just a few – are to be found in the composers section and, with the help of a brand new multimedia guide, relatively easy to find.

Books for inspiration: Frederic Morton: A Nervous Splendour and Thunder at Twilight for a better understanding of – and an easy approach to – Austria's fascinating history. These two “gossipy” historic novels allow a clever insight into what led to the empire's ultimate collapse in 1918.

The most breathtaking view: St Stephan's tall and slender steeple, lovingly known as “Steffl” by the Viennese, towers high above the roofs of the city centre. The climb up 340 spiral steps, for a terrific view across the rooftops of central Vienna, may be a little strenuous, I know, but certainly worth the effort. Alternatively, the half hour walk uphill to the Gloriette terrace, in the park at Schönbrunn Palace, allows the best vantage point from which to enjoy the beautiful sprawling gardens.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: come in plenty – both indoors and out. A favourite of mine is in Belvedere gardens, where park benches stand between a maze of hedges that have been cut to shape by master craftsmen, offering a tranquil shady corner, particularly during warm summer days.

Shopaholics beware: style-conscious shoppers looking for funky fashion will find the latest trends on Neubaugasse and the adjacent Lindengasse – these side streets are an alternative to the, sometimes overcrowded, commercial Mariahilferstrasse. And as for gifts, gadgets and gimmicks, I always find something to buy at the design shop in the MAK (Museum of Applied Art) www.makdesignshop.at.

City on screen: Perhaps the best is The Third Man, a black and white film classic staged in allied-occupied Vienna following World War II – starring the great Orson Welles as Harry Lime. Before Sunrise, a romantic love story featuring lots of sights and sounds of the city, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

City soundtrack: Well do I have much of a choice? The Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss Jr. Clichés are sometimes unavoidable and some things just don't seem to change. However, for me it has to be 'Vienna waits for you' – from Billy Joel's breakthrough album The Stranger, simply my favourite!

Don’t leave without... tasting: Tafelspitz, Wiener Schnitzel, Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel and a delicious glass, or two, of Viennese white wine, try a Grüne Veltliner or Weiss Burgunder from one of the best Viennese vintners – www.wienwein.net.