You've bought your plane tickets. The hotel reservations have been made. Your itinerary of things to do is set. And it includes a night at the theater. The last thing you want is a theater ticket for a seat that doesn't allow you to see the stage.
Seats with obstructed views are uncommon in modern, state of the art theaters such as the National Theatre in London or the Opera Bastille in Paris. However, older, historic theaters such as La Scala in Milan often have a handful of seats that, surprisingly, don't allow you to see the stage.
Poor sight lines are typically caused by architectural elements such as the angle of the seating to the stage, or a beam or wall that are part of the building’s design and engineering.
In other cases, these troublesome seats, like the boxes, were built not for seeing the action on the stage, but for people watching. In the distant past, only the richest and most well heeled people sat in the box seats. This way everyone in the theater could see the wealthy and recognize their status in society.
Where are the best seats?
Each section of seats offers different views of the stage and, as a result, very different experiences. When you're close to the stage, of course, you can see every, facial expression and hear every word and note. But sitting close to the stage makes it more difficult to take in the entire sense of the production, such as patterns created by the corps de ballet moving as a school of fish. Still, seats too far back or higher, may leave you squinting to see the performers.
Generally, the best seats in the house are going to be in the center orchestra and right in the center of the house. The right and left orchestra areas tend to have good seats for seeing the action taking place on the sides of the stage, provided the seats are reasonably close.
Also, the first few rows in the center mezzanine, lower balcony or dress circle have good views of the entire stage. Keep in mind, that the further back that you sit, the higher you sit as well.
At Teatro la Fenice in Venice, the seats in the upper galleries and within each box, where individual seats are not reserved, may present obstructed views. The sight lines in Rome's Teatro dell'Opera within the lateral boxes and upper gallery may have obstructed sight lines as well.
How do I get a good seat?
When buying tickets, select seats in or as close to the center orchestra as possible. Also, when you buy box seats, ensure that you are seated in the first row.
Theaters often sell seats with obstructed views at a reduced price. When you purchase a reduced price ticket, call the box office to find out if your seat has good sight lines. Obstructed view seating may not be worth the savings.
If the thought of spending more than a $100 for ticket makes you cringe, you might risk getting the cheaper, partially obstructed view seats. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Other times, when the music is good and the theater beautiful, you'll get so much more.
See also: Seating Maps for Various Theaters