Following our first guide to some of the world's great opera houses by our local reviewers, here's a second edition covering Sydney to Berlin, from Montreal to Madrid. Want to know where to sit? When to book? Read on!

Sydney Opera House © Hamilton Lund
Sydney Opera House
© Hamilton Lund

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House: Patricia Maunder

A striking building set on a spectacular harbour, the Sydney Opera House's wondrous exterior can exceed the experience inside. An unfortunate consequence of this house's iconic status is that many tourists take in an opera without realising that whispering during performances is inappropriate.

Most problems are due to its troubled construction, including the decision to shunt opera from the venue's largest space to its second-largest, recently dubbed the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Its small stage and pit can't accommodate large-scale productions and orchestras, and acoustics are problematic.

Interior of the Joan Sutherland Theatre © Daniel Boud
Interior of the Joan Sutherland Theatre
© Daniel Boud

The advantages of this 1500-seat auditorium is an intimate performance experience and good sightlines for most. Views from balcony boxes and loges at the extreme left and right are restricted, however, sometimes so much so that tickets are only $44. For the same price, standing-room tickets are available at the box office from 9am on performance days, and student rush one hour before curtain-up.

Opera Australia subscriptions are available from August, and single tickets from October; book seats of your choice online through Opera Australia and the Sydney Opera House. Premium tickets are well over $200, and considerably more for the annual New Year's Eve Opera Gala, which segues into a party overlooking the eye-popping harbour fireworks.

Tip: Pre-order interval refreshments at the bars to maximise time admiring the harbour from the glass-walled foyers and outdoor terraces. 

Arts Centre, Melbourne © Mark Gambino
Arts Centre, Melbourne
© Mark Gambino
State Theatre, Melbourne: Patricia Maunder

An unusual aspect of the Arts Centre Melbourne's theatres building is that it's mostly underground. Wherever your ticket takes you, it will be downstairs, especially for the vast State Theatre's stalls. This 2000-seat auditorium looks onto one of the world's largest stages and a pit that accommodated 135 musicians for Opera Australia's 2016 Ring Cycle. It's the company's Melbourne home, and also hosts The Australian Ballet.

Acoustics are generally good throughout, but views are a different matter. The best seats are in the stalls' front half, and are also good centre-forward of the dress circle. Anything to the rear is some distance from the stage, while seats at the extremities of the balcony and dress circle have restricted views. While boxes at the balcony's far left and right are intimate spaces that provide close-ups of the ceiling's 75,000 little brass domes, sightlines are poor.

Prices are $65 for such seats, but expect to pay at least $100 for reasonable views, and well over $200 for the best. Single tickets are available from October; choose specific seats when booking online through the Arts Centre or Opera Australia. Discounted options include Opera Australia subscriptions available from August, and $44 student rush tickets sold at the box office one hour before the performance.

Tip: Pre-order interval refreshments at the bars to maximise time among the impressive collection of paintings by major Australian artists including John Olsen and Arthur Boyd.

Berlin: Ako Imamura

Berlin is blessed with three opera houses that present both traditional and modern repertoire almost nightly, often overlapping. An opera lover in Berlin often must select a performance among the three venues. Ticket prices are reasonable, thanks to large federal subsidy, although a premiere of a new production tends to be priced higher. The three houses offer discount to those under 30 years of age an opportunity to buy last minute tickets if available.

Interior of the Deutsche Oper © Bernd Uhlig
Interior of the Deutsche Oper
© Bernd Uhlig

Deutsche Oper Berlin celebrated its 100th year anniversary several years ago in its functional and modern building with generous public space for pre-performance and intermission gatherings. Acoustics are excellent throughout, although somewhat distant on upper levels. The best location is in Parkett middle center. Many in the know quickly book Parkett Row 7 as seats starts raking here. The orchestra pit is low, making it possible for singers to be heard over the orchestra without too much exertion.

Ticket sales for general public begin mid to late March, and performances rarely sell out quickly, with an exception of the Ring Cycles. The famous “Subway” Ring by Götz Friedrich, presented for the last time in 2 cycles in April 2017, sold out within a couple of weeks. Discount tickets are available one week prior to the performance, to students, teenagers, retirees and the unemployed. Subscribers and those who purchase 9 or more performances are entitled to a discount.

Staatsoper Berlin Unter den Linden © Gordon Welters
Staatsoper Berlin Unter den Linden
© Gordon Welters

Staatsoper Berlin left its temporary location of the last several years at the Schiller Theater in the fall of 2017, returning to its permanent home in Unter den Linden. While a number of improvements have been made to modernize the theater and enhance the acoustics, the original horseshoe shape of the traditional theater is retained.

One exception of the reasonable prices of SO Berlin is the Festtage, a festival of 10 days or so around the Easter, usually consisting of 2 or 3 operas plus concerts and recitals. This “mini” festival garners much higher prices and the tickets are sold separately, first as a 3 or more event subscription in the prior spring, and later as singles in the fall. For regular performances, discounts similar to DO Berlin are available to students, retirees and minors, starting 4 weeks prior to the performance. One can also purchase a Staatsoperncard at EUR 35, which entitles the holder to a 20% discount for the 12-moths period, except for the Festtage performances. Subscribers can get up to a 30% discount.

Komische Oper Berlin © Jan Windszus Photography
Komische Oper Berlin
© Jan Windszus Photography

Komische Oper Berlin is the most innovative and interesting opera house in Berlin. Almost all the soloists belong to the ensemble, but lack of well-known singers and conductors seldom prevents one to enjoy a performance in the small theater of traditional interior with excellent acoustics and comfortable seats. Many operas are presented in German, with individual subtitles in German, English and Turkish. Acoustics and sightline are uniformly good, except for the very side of the balcony. Restricted view tickets are sold separately.

Prices are lowest at KO Berlin compared to the two other opera houses in Berlin. Children under 18 accompanied by adults are offered a substantial discount. A Loyalty Card at EUR 30 entitles its holder a 25% discount.

Teatro Real, Madrid © Javier del Real
Teatro Real, Madrid
© Javier del Real

Teatro Real, Madrid: Fernando Remiro

A new early-bird booking system only for subscribers has made getting tickets for the Teatro Real harder. Tickets are on sale around three months before each title’s opening night and it is advisable to be online before 10am on the fixed date to get the best seats available.

The Teatro Real has a spectacular discount programme for people under 30, who enjoy 19€ tickets in any available seat four hours before the performance starts. Otherwise, there are not last-minute tickets but if you happen to be in Madrid and a performance is sold-out, do check with the box office around 4PM, just in case.

Stalls seats are not necessarily the best ones in terms of acoustics. Absolutely avoid the second and third rows in lateral boxes, expensive and disappointing. If you are on a tight budget, the fourth-row seats in the centre of the second and the third floor are unbeatable, with terrific acoustics for voices.

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts © Caroline Bergeron
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts
© Caroline Bergeron

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Montreal: Patricia Maunder

The largest venue in the Place des Arts complex, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is home to Opéra de Montréal and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The stage's remarkable width is reflected in the 3000-seat auditorium's fan shape, which delivers generally good sightlines and places all but the upper balconies reasonably close to the stage. Unfortunately the auditorium's width, and other factors including the high, latticed ceiling, means acoustics are problematic. Microphones are routinely placed at the foot of the stage for Opéra de Montréal performances, and the resulting amplification can sometimes be jarring.

Opera subscriptions are available from March and single tickets (about $60-$160) from August. Limited $20 tickets are released on specific dates in the weeks prior to each opera's opening. When booking online at Opéra de Montréal or Place des Arts, note that seats are numbered French-fashion: pair (even) on one side and impair (odd) on the other, with the smallest numbers at the centre. Also bear in mind that entry to Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is only possible via the Place des Arts foyer (accessed from rue Ste Catherine, the underground carpark and Place des Arts Métro station). Surtitles are in both French and English.

Most opera performances take place when temperatures are below freezing, with snow almost certain during winter. Vestiaire (cloakroom) staff happily care for bulky boots so that patrons can change into more elegant footwear. If your accommodation is, like Place des Arts, connected to downtown Montreal's vast underground city, it's easy to bypass the cold and snow entirely.