As I’m often mentioning operas and concerts I’m attending, and you can see them in my reports on performances attended in 2022 and performances booked in 2023, I thought it could be helpful to share how I find these events. I did quite extensive searching before each of my longer stays in Europe, made wish lists, narrowed them down to what most tempted me and what was most feasible logistically.
We all have our own ideas of feasibility, of course! If you looked at my schedule for this year, you’d see I booked 2-4 night getaways, flying to Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam just for operas.
Now, how I drafted my wish lists. I used the sites below to search for events in cities whose opera houses I want some day to get to, to search for favorite performers, to search for favorite works. And then I had to narrow it down, because if I had the funds I’d be at a couple of events every week and move city every few days. But I do have a serious purpose to my wanderings last year and this, which is to figure out where next to live. That makes using Schengen days for quite optional entertainment pure indulgence. But it’s consistent with my values. I think that attending live events of high quality adds enormous richness to life – even, “it restoreth my soul.” It is exhilarating to experience masterworks by master performers – or even pleasingly competent ones! – in a glorious, historic setting. Obviously, I can’t get enough of these moments.
I am particularly thrilled about two tickets for rarely-performed works that I love to listen to. Those would be Handel’s early oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno at Berliner Philharmoniker (being performed in the original 1707 version, not one of the later reworkings) and Porpora’s Polifemo with Julia Lezhneva and Franco Fagioli at Het Concertgebouw. You can hear the Polifemo aria “Alto Giove” sung by Fagioli on YouTube. I don’t find the cast I’ll hear for Handel on YouTube, but I can give a link to the delightful Amanda Forsythe singing the aria “Tu del Ciel ministro eletto.” Oh either inspires shivers of joy in anticipation. What a season I get to have!
Covering many countries – and what I use for Europe
Music & Opera is a site for searching by city, artist, venue or festival. You can book official tickets on their pages; they are authorized sellers, not resellers. The site’s further distinction is their travel packages built around cultural events. If you’d like to plan a getaway with a bit of style, explore their offerings. I was rather tempted by one of their short stays in Venice …. Browse, dream, maybe book. I am happy to say I’ve just become an affiliate, so if you book after clicking through from this page (or from banners elsewhere on this site), I will get a little credit to help me attend more events, and you’ll pay the normal box-office price. Please be so kind!
This is the site when you know what city you’ll be in or near, and what dates you have open. Efficient and easy. They sell official tickets for venues worldwide and are not resellers. I have just been accepted as an affiliate, so if you buy via my link, I would get a little commission that would help me attend something next year.
When in France, I regularly check BilletReduc for discounted tickets to concerts as well as theatre and other performances. Site is in French, but after all, names of composers, performers and venues are what you’re wading through, so shouldn’t be too hard.
London and UK
Sarah Nash has a good overview of classical music venues in London, which she sets out as a two-day itinerary just to see the halls. https://archaeology-travel.com/itineraries/london-classical-music-itinerary/
https://www.concert-diary.com/ If you’re traveling in the UK, you should check concert-diary.com for opera, ballet and classical music. You can filter by region and venue as well as by specific interest.
https://www.open-concerts.co.uk/ lists classical music concerts and recitals in the UK. This is a good place to find church concerts and university recitals and programs you would not find on commercial sites.
Interested in the featured image here, with Maestro JE Gardiner? Read my post, “Thrills at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.”
About these opera houses …
I urge you, when you find a performance you want to attend, to note the date single tickets go on sale, put it on your calendar and act that day to secure your ticket(s) online. I was rather relaxed about booking Montpellier and Toulouse this season, and then found it very hard to get a decent not-top-dollar seat. I’m not aiming for the highest-priced houses; so so sad, but La Scala and Covent Garden are beyond me. It was a wake-up call, so I noted sale dates for Brussels, Berlin and Amsterdam. And, as much as I’d kept it in mind, I still forgot one till the second day and was shocked to see how many seats were sold in the first 24 hours. But how reassuring that opera has such a passionate public!
So don’t take anything for granted, check all the details about ticket sales and don’t miss out. Surprisingly, I found Montpellier and Toulouse don’t delay single-ticket sales as long as some others do, so their April concerts were selling in early fall, yet I couldn’t get my Feb 4 Brussels ticket until nearly Christmas.
If you’re a classical music fan, you’re already aware of the small size of most concert and opera halls. Perfect for us music lovers, necessary for the quality of the production, but it means those limited tickets must be snagged! Here, for fun, is a look at the seating capacity of some famous venues. One may assume the round numbers are approximations. And there may be a good number of standing room tickets in addition to seats, so I can hardly claim this list is definitive. It’s just a relative idea, yet a fairly reliable ranking.
- Metropolitan Opera, NYC 3,850
- Lyric Opera of Chicago 3,563
- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco 3,146
- Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires 2,800
- Sydney Opera House 2,670
- Berlin Philharmonic 2,440
- Kennedy Center Opera House, DC 2,364
- Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 2,268
- Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2,212
- La Scala, Milan 2,200 (ClassicFM says 3000+ La Scala’s pages don’t say)
- Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona 2,292
- Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam “almost 2,000”
- Bayreuth Festspielhaus 1,925
- Palais Garnier, Paris 1900
- Teatro de la Maestranza, Seville 1,800+
- Teatro Real, Madrid 1,746 – 1,854
- Bolshoi, Moscow 1,740
- Wiener Staatsoper 1,709
- Opéra de Dijon 1,611
- Operaen, Copenhagen 1,500
- Teatro di San Carlo, Naples 1,386
- Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin 1,300-1,400
- Magyar Állami Operaház, Budapest 1,300
- Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm 1,200
- Opéra Comédie, Montpellier 1,200
- La Monnaie – De Munt, Brussels 1,152
- Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse 1,156
- Teatro La Fenice, Venice 1,126
- Opera Theater of St. Louis, Loretto-Hilton Center 987
- Opéra Grand Avignon “nearly 700”
And then there are the open-air arenas used for some famous festivals, for example:
- Théâtre antique d’Orange 8,600
- Terme di Caracalla, Rome 8,000
- Arena di Verona, post-Covid reported 6,000 seats