March 14, 2019 – Continuing my paean to classy, cultured Vienna , which boasts (rightly, in my opinion) the best quality of life on the planet, my wife and I attended the opera on our second night in town at the magnificent Vienna Opera House.
I have never been a big fan of this bombastic expression of the fine arts. Thus, when my wife told me several months before our trip that the Vienna Opera website had orchestra seats for €200 each, but that we could instead snag €10 “obstructed view” seats, I opted for the cheap way out.
Of course I acknowledge that a night at the opera, notwithstanding the brilliant Marx Brothers movie, was and is the height of Viennese musical culture. Every opera star since 1869 has performed on the boards of the gorgeous and breathtaking Vienna State Opera stage, and I was looking forward to the experience of, well, just being there, obstructed view or no.
We were delayed arriving, barely making curtain call. Attendants in fancy dress rushed us up a lavishly-appointed gold elevator and briskly walked us down the right side corridor behind the boxes on the second level. As we were ushered into the pitch-black anteroom of our box at the very end, I began to wonder where our bad seats were located. Surely not in a closet!
But then, as my eyes adjusted to the darkened theater, I was astonished to realize that we had landed in the premier box directly over the orchestra, the best private box location in the theater. See my wife pointing to our box in the photo below.
The permanent box owners (or their guests) were seated at the balcony, with one elevated chair directly behind, already occupied by an elegantly-dressed lady. Our two seats were also in elevated chairs with comfortable foot rests directly behind her.
Obstructed view, yes, but we had a direct view down onto the orchestra, one of the world’s finest, and a partial view of the stage. I was startled to realize that we had some of the best seats in the place for €10 each. We settled in to enjoy Verdi’s “Falstaff”.
Not much takes my breath away after these many decades, but that Vienna Opera experience did. The spectacular hall, the symphony orchestra flawlessly performing Verdi’s gorgeous music, the stunningly beautiful voices, the adoring audience in respectful formal attire: Perfecto! Pure happiness! I remember thinking: This is civilization.
It was difficult to get the entire stage in a picture both because of our “obstructed view” seats and because I didn’t want to be caught at that sophisticated venue acting like a dirty American tourist, which I’d have been embarrassingly hard-pressed to disavow had I leaned way out over the box balcony for a photo.
At intermission, we stole quickly to one of the many bars and had a ridiculously over-priced glass of ice-cold French Champagne, perfect for the occasion. We sipped and wandered up and down the staircases, noting the fashionable attire of patrons and the sheer grandeur of the hall.
Afterwards, still tingling with opera magic, we relished a late night meal at the Bierteufl cafe and beer hall just a half block from our hotel. The Bierteufl is in the basement of Beethoven House, where the great composer lived for 35 years while in Vienna.
I marveled that Beethoven lived and worked just a stone’s throw from our hotel, a reminder of Vienna’s long and remarkable history of music.
Quite the cultural contrast to a Vienna opera, the Bierteufl boasted its own distinct airs of Viennese charm, including an astonishing beer list (over 100 selections). We ordered two “vom Faß” (on draft) half liters of their namesake brew, and both were fantastic. I’d love to have time to go back for several weeks in order to drink my way entirely through their extensive offering. I’d then be an expert on Austrian and German beers, though perhaps 20 pounds heavier and bordering on alcoholism.
The Bierteufl menu proved equally marvelous to its beer list. My wife ordered a delicious pork soup with noodles and vegetables, but I had an old Bavarian favorite of mine, Wießwurst.
Wießwurst (pronounced “vice-vurst”–the symbol “ß” is double-s in German, not to be confused with capital B) is a scrumptious Bavarian white sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon, usually flavored with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger, and cardamom. It is always served with a unique sweet Bavarian mustard (Weißwurstsenf) made specially to accompany Weißwurst.
For me, it is comfort food, since I came to savor Weißwurst when living and working in Munich 1975-76. It’s traditionally served in the morning with Weißbier (pronounced “vice-beer” is literally “white beer”, a. yeasty wheat beer served in dramatically tall, skinny glasses).
I felt lucky to find Weißwurst still available for late night dinner since the sausage contains no preservatives and is made fresh daily. My little sausages at Bierteufl were divine!
Wikipedia has an interesting long article on Weißwurst.
Opera and sausage: both exquisite ingredients of Germanic culture, equally important parts of the sumptuous tableau of Viennese life. Vienna is a perennial delight, with rich treasures literally around every corner. I counted us lucky that night to be living that experience on so many levels.