Bachtrack is lucky to have opera reviewers around the globe, bringing you their critiques of productions new and old. They are real enthusiasts. Who better to offer us an 'insider guide' to their favourite opera houses? Want to know where to sit? When to book? Here, several of our opera team share their thoughts. 

La Scala, interior © Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
La Scala, interior
© Brescia & Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Teatro alla Scala, Milan: James Imam

Tickets at La Scala sell fast, especially for popular performances of Verdi and Puccini, but box office opening times are clearly stated on La Scala's site, meaning that you can often pick up even cheaper tickets if you are well-organised.

For those that are happy to queue, La Scala releases 140 gallery tickets two and half hours before the start of each performance, which are acquired by lining up outside the box office on Via Filodrammatici where badged members of the “L'Accordo” association will emerge to put your name on a list (one ticket per person). People queue from the morning for popular performances.

The sound is arguably best in the gallery, though the stage is far away making enjoyment of the production tricky. Views of the stage are also often restricted from (mid-priced) seats in boxes (palchi). From the stalls (platea), you'll get a decent sound, comfortable seats and unimpeded views, though tickets are pricey.

Top tip: the sound is best in the platea in seats lining the outer walls.

Dutch National Opera
Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam: Jenny Camilleri

Buying printable e-tickets online for this spacious house is a cinch. Ballet performances go on sale each year on the 1st of June, operas according to a staggered schedule. Lower balcony centre seats are the best for sight and sound. There are no bad sightlines, but the balcony overhang muffles sound, so avoid upwards of Row 15 in the stalls. Dynamic pricing means prices go up if sales are good, Monday to Thursday shows being cheaper. Price bands 5 (opera) and 4 (ballet) in the upper balcony offer the best value for money. The cheapest opera seats (20-30 euros) go fast because prices double in the next band. The Last Minute Ticket Shop sometimes has same-day tickets at 50% off. Students can get last-minute tickets for 15 euros; admission requires an up-to-date photo student ID. For sold-out performances, the box office gives out standby numbers for unclaimed tickets one hour before curtain-up.

Comfort tip: avoid queues by pre-ordering your interval refreshments at the bar.

Bayerische Staatsoper © Wilfried Hösl
Bayerische Staatsoper
© Wilfried Hösl

Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich: Ako Imamura

If one can choose, Parkett rows 5 and up offer the best sightlines as this is where tiered seating begins. The first four rows can be a challenge if one has a tall person in front. The house acoustics can be tricky at the back and the sides of the Parkett and one should avoid the extreme sides as both sightline and acoustics are compromised. Upper levels are best acoustically; center locations are the best for visuals as side seats restrict views.

Single tickets are allocated three months prior to performances to those who apply via the internet, email or in person. The remaining tickets are sold online and on the phone two months prior to performance. Annual summer opera festival tickets are allocated in February and any remaining tickets are then sold at the end of March.

The drawback to applying early for tickets in both houses is that one cannot choose your exact seats, only the general locations. It is usually possible to book two months prior to the performance, however, very popular performances can be sold out by that time.

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco © Joel Puliatti
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
© Joel Puliatti

San Francisco Opera: Ilana Walder-Biesanz

No seat is bad at San Francisco Opera, but the best acoustics are for those who pay the least, up in the balcony. If you want to see the performers' faces, the front of the orchestra is the place to sit – not too far audience right, though, or you might find the score is dominated by percussion and brass. If you can, buy tickets at the front of the balcony (not the balcony circle) on an OperaVision night. Then you get close-ups of the action plus excellent live sound. You can book early if you like, but except for much-hyped premières, shows rarely sell out. Those who wait can often snap up deals. $10 standing room spots are sold at 10am at the box office. There are 200 of them, so there's usually no queue. Students, seniors, and members of the military can all get discounted rush tickets at 11am on performance days at the box office, or online with pre-registration. If you're under 40, you can register for BRAVO! (for a $75 annual fee) and get access to $52 orchestra seats, emailed out approximately two weeks before the performance.

Ready to make the trek to the opera? Save your airline miles and ticket dollars for the 2018 Ring cycle, which promises an exciting cast of Wagnerians and a beautiful American staging.

Mannheim Nationaltheater © Christian Kleiner
Mannheim Nationaltheater
© Christian Kleiner

Mannheim Nationaltheater: Matthew Rye

As an institution, Mannheim’s National Theatre is the oldest municipally run theatre in Germany, though the present multi-stage building dates from 1957. The auditorium of the opera house is a rather cold, sterile space, with long, straight rows of Parkett seats and a minimal, four-row rear balcony, with narrow offshoots extending down the sides. The ends of rows in the Parkett are best avoided because of the claustrophobic overhang of these upper tiers, but the steep rake means good sightlines throughout – the coveted front row attracts a premium price. The defiantly un-plush seating – the most minimalist outside Bayreuth – is pretty hard on one’s bones, but the musical rewards should compensate and the acoustic is excellent.

Tickets (€19-€94 for first nights, otherwise €13-€74, less for Monday-Thursday performances) go on sale two months before each performance. 

Wiener Staatsoper © WienTourismus | Christian Stemper
Wiener Staatsoper
© WienTourismus | Christian Stemper

Wiener Staatsoper: Ako Imamura

My favorite seats are in the front row of Parkett, even on the side, as the pit is relatively shallow and one can watch the orchestra and conductor closely.  Acoustically, the best seats are in the front rows of the boxes, on three levels. Avoid the back rows of the boxes as they only offer a partial view and the sound gets muffled. The balcony seats are excellent acoustically. The expensive Parkett seats present sightline issues as the seats are not tiered at all and staggering is insufficient.

There are discounts available to subscribers. Single tickets are allocated several months before performances to those who apply via internet, fax or in person. The remaining tickets are sold online two months before the performance date. Standing room tickets are available an hour and a half prior to the performance, and are a bargain at 4 (Parkett) and 3 (balcony, gallery) euros. Standing room in Parkett offers excellent sound and vision. Returned tickets may become available later, as they allow ticket holders to sell them on consignment basis on their website.

Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe © Rainer Lück | Wikicommons
Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe
© Rainer Lück | Wikicommons

Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe: Matthew Rye

The ‘vineyard’-style, split-level auditorium of the modern Badischer Staatstheater (a kind of asymmetric version of London’s Barbican Hall) has comfortable seating, and a generous rake that ensures good sightlines from all but the very ends of rows – the concrete-bunker-like exterior and foyer spaces are due for a welcome rebuild. It is one of the few theatres in Germany to offer English surtitles for most productions, but they are a strain to see below about row 5 of the Parkett.

Full schedules are usually released in July, when tickets for all performances go on sale. Only first nights and occasional galas with star singers tend to sell out. Tickets are a very reasonable €10.50-€40, more at weekends and for premieres/galas.