Vienna Opera House at Night
Vienna Opera House at night
The Vienna Opera House at night

When people find out that my daughter’s middle name is Vienna, the first question is inevitably some variation of, “Oh, you didn’t name her after that mean girl from The Bachelor, did you?”

So, no. I have never watched The Bachelor. I don’t think The Bachelor is the hottest thing since those big sunflares last month. I couldn’t pick the man out of a nicely dressed, rose-holding man-ish line-up. I’m not saying I think I’m above reality TV. That would clearly be a lie since I’m streaming half of The Real Housewives. I just don’t like the brand of reality that The Bachelor brings.

My daughter is named after two things: #1 — the Billy Joel song ‘Vienna’ (We grew up in NY, what do you want?) and #2 — the city. But mainly the city because this is bigger than Billy.

I love Vienna, Austria.

My husband – let’s call him Mark (because that’s his name) – and I saw the Opera ‘Werther’ in Vienna a while back. 

In case you haven’t heard of Werther, and not many people have since 1892, it’s an operatic drama, and that should tell you all you need to know. Someone gets stabbed – Werther, in this case. He spends the next hour and a half singing to his brand new fiancé about how he was stabbed and is going to die. He dies.

His fiancé is sad, but she will prevail against this evil. She sings about this for about a half an hour. Curtains up, applause, and then everyone goes for ice cream. Love it or hate it, there is no denying the ridiculousness of opera.

But ridiculousness is not necessarily bad. Mark and I had the chance to see a Mexican singer whom we’d never heard of before – Rolando Villazon. He was, rightly, one of the world’s most renowned operatic tenors alive and performing. It was his comeback night after months off-stage with an injury. I later discovered articles about his triumphant return to Vienna all over the Internet.

The Vienna Opera House is located in the heart of the city's First District. Photo by Vienna Tourist Board
The Vienna Opera House is located in the heart of the city’s First District. Photo by Vienna Tourist Board

We arrived at the Opera House in Vienna during a walk around town about two hours early, and we found a group of women with portable chairs hanging out around the building, talking excitedly about something in German.

And that’s when it hit me – these are Opera tailgaters. I’m from Buffalo. I know tailgating when I see it. We asked around and discovered through a mix of bungled English, German and French, that, sure enough, there was a great show to be seen and sausage was about to be shared. So we joined the tailgate line. Two hours and 6 Euro later we had two tickets to one of the most sought after performances in the country.

Let me repeat that last part – 6 Euro. $10 at the time. For two tickets. I’ve since been to the Opera in San Diego and you can’t get to the ticket booth for that much money.

It’s true we were standing the entire time, and it’s possible my boots may have come off – I was not the only one – as I dressed for comfortable, fashionable walking, and not comfortable, fashionable standing for hours on end.

But no one cared. Not even the gentleman behind me in his clearly tailored, expensive herringbone suit. The Viennese care about appearances, but they care more about experiences – everyone’s experiences, not just their own.

The Opera, as well as many museums and artistic sights, are government subsidized. Because art is like air in Vienna, and everyone needs to breathe.

The Vienna Opera House is one of the city's most famous icons.
The Vienna Opera House is one of the city’s most famous icons. Photo by Vienna Tourist Board

The Vienna Opera House looks like it belongs in the opulent backdrops of Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ — except that it’s real. And on land. And filled with ghosts & history anyone can experience.

Ornately filled with gold filigree, purple velvet seats, green, blue and yellow intricacies carved in the walls and perfectly dimmed lighting, it is a sight to behold. Each ‘seat’, whether sitting or standing, had its own small translator box conveniently located directly below your view of the stage so you can read, watch and hear what is said almost instantaneously.

Werther is in German, but we read every word on the little screens in front of us in perfectly translated English. There was intimacy like no other venue I’ve experienced because everyone so wanted to be there and share in the experience.

And everyone was dressed to the nines, except the American tourists (yes, me) who had just discovered the performance three hours ago and were originally planning on a brewery. (See below for ‘BuffaloGirl Travel Absolute’ on how to change from Brewery to Opera attire in 30 seconds).

There are many stories that come with this experience, but this is about those moments at any great concert or show when the world around you begins to shrink. The circumference of activity defining your life grows gradually smaller and there is simply less room for worry or want.

The music played. Darkness settled into your skin. Sights and sounds collided in the house, saturating you with intertwined images of bodies, costumes and warm dusty air until everything ran together in a haze and, then Villazon gave his soul in his voice.

The walls could be on fire and it would not matter. It was so real, this constructive connection, even flames would blend into the foreground. All that mattered was the voice in the vacuum.

For some time, it was just us and that voice. I’ve no idea how long. It was like being in a trance. But for at least two hours, Vienna and Villazon gave their all to us.

Having done the equivalent of taking deep, soothing breaths for hours in a row simply by standing in place, the Viennese thanked Villazon with five standing ovations. There were tears of appreciation from both singer and audience. Villazon, for his part, loved us back. He must have to deliver that depth of performance.

And then we went for ice cream and phenomenal hot chocolate at the stylish and comfortable Hotel Sacher Cafe.

That’s one reason why I love Vienna. That’s one reason why Vienna is my daughter’s middle name.

And (nod to Billy), of course, she was waiting for me that whole time.

The sun sets in Vienna, Austria.
The sun sets in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Vienna Tourist Board.

Notes from the Author: BuffaloGirl Travel Absolute. I learned at the Opera House to always carry a nice looking scarf. This one was a checked Burberry-like number I’d purchased earlier for about the same price as my ticket.

I slipped it around my neck in a smart tie and suddenly I was a version of dressy. Beautiful scarves are inexpensive and they are travel magic. Wrap one around your neck and tuck in your hair to avoid messy hair/makeup look. Cover your shoulders or low-neck lines in churches, or tie one around your waist to create shape in an otherwise comfortable but boxy outfit, etc. And if you make it a neutral it will go with anything so you only have to pack one.

If You Go

Vienna Tourist Board


Janna Graber
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