One of the beautiful aspects of traveling to Europe is experiencing opera, ballet, or other genres of the performing arts in iconic theaters, from historic opera houses to concert venues with cutting-edge architecture.
But it can be a shock after booking your flights and hotels to find that a show you wanted to see is sold out. With a short window of travel time and when no alternative options remain, you may find it impossible to see a performance during your trip.
Often, tickets sell out for popular opera programs within hours of going on sale. Beyond simple popularity, they sell out so fast, partly, because season subscription holders have first choice of seats and performance dates. Then, within 2-3 months of the performance, the opera house will tier the sale of tickets, offering them online on one date, by phone on another, and in person at the box office on still a different day.
Your best bet, if you think you may like to attend a performance when you first start planning your trip, is to build it into your travel itinerary well in advance. When you know in advance the date and performance you wish to attend, you can be ready to purchase tickets the moment they go on sale.
Still, there are contingency options in case you missed the opportunity to buy tickets for an opera or ballet performance.
Book a Theater Ticket + Hotel Package
One option would be to book a package that includes theater tickets as well as accommodations at a hotel near the opera house. This way, you can be sure to have a premium seat at your preferred performance since the theater tickets are pre-arranged. A package will also include extras such as a backstage tour, dinner before or after the show as well as a luxury or boutique hotel near the opera house.
Opt for Less than Ideal Seats
If you prefer to purchase just the tickets and availability is dwindling, make getting any seat, even one separated from your travel companion(s), a secondary option. You can at least see the show and perhaps even have spectacular seats, if you're willing to sit alone.
The historic venues in Europe are shaped in such a way that the boxes on the sides offer only partial or no views of the stage. You can get these seats for a reduced price and they are often among the last seats to be sold, meaning they may still be available after premium seats have sold out.
Additionally, some theaters such as the Opera Bastille and Royal Opera House offer standing room only tickets, which become available on the day of the show. You quite literally will have to stand throughout the entire performance in the back, upper areas or sides of the auditorium. Theaters sometimes hold these seats only for people who call to book to be sure there's a clear understanding of the drawbacks.
Stand in Line at the Box Office
For tickets left uncollected at the box office, the theater will sometimes resell them immediately before the show. Usually, these are only available at the box office in person on the day of the performance for those who are willing to stand in the box office line. And it's first come first served. However, at Teatro alla Scala you can secure a place in line, in advance, through the L'Accordo association and purchase such tickets two and a half hours before the performance.
Check Online for Unsold Tickets
The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London now offers rush tickets online, saving would-be theater-goers the trouble of standing in line. Forty-nine tickets are set aside for purchase on Friday at 1pm the week before the performance. The Royal Opera sometimes will allow people to return their tickets before curtain, and if the box office is able to resell it, then the original purchaser can get a refund. The Paris Opera has a similar service through it official ticket exchange, available online for people who purchased tickets but can no longer use them.
Use Your Age
For young theater-goers and senior citizens, opera houses offer special standby tickets. For instance, the Coliseum theater in London, home to the English National Opera and London's offers reduced tickets in the dress or upper circle seating through a membership program and La Scala in Milan also offers reduced priced tickets for theater-goers under 30. An ID is required.
Enlist the Help of Your Concierge
At luxury hotels, the concierge can be a good source for securing theater tickets. They often have relationships with brokers or the theaters themselves for getting tickets for hotel guests. Though sometimes, the way they get tickets is simply the same as the general public, online.