CLASSICAL TRIVIA! Rick Phillips and Ann Kirkland plan to challenge the rules for visitors to the opera in Vienna

Rick Phillips and Ann Kirkland hope you will join them this fall for Sachertorte and Paprikash: Musical Meanderings Along the Blue Danube, September 27 – October 7, 2011. Every Classical Pursuits trip offers the opportunity not only to enjoy the music, art and other cultural aspects of  our destination, but also to consider what cultural traditions tell us about history.  These 19th century Vienna Opera House rules appear absurd, but on reflection offer us a fascinating glimpse of an age long gone.

Rules for Visitors to the Court Opera, Vienna, 1897
(Regulations pursuant to the law forbidding late arrival)

A cannon will be fired in the Imperial and Royal Arsenal at 5p.m. daily as a signal to visitors to the Court Opera, that they should begin their preparations at home. On days when performances commence at 6:30 p.m.  the signal will be given at 4:30.

At 6 p.m. or 5:30 respectively, a second shot will give warning to ticket-holders who are resident in the outer suburbs that their journey to the Court Opera should now start. It has been arranged with Viennese householders that the concierges shall inform such tenants as intend to visit the Opera on that day as soon as the 6 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. shot has been fired, and shall urge the said tenants to leave the house immediately.

As the tramway and omnibus system, particularly during the current pipe-laying operations, is exceptionally prone to involvement in traffic blocks and thus may cause ticket-holders in vast numbers to arrive late, all owners of season tickets and ticket-holders are obliged on their word of honour never to board one of the said vehicles to travel to the above Opera once the above mentioned signal has sounded.

Standing about and chatting in the cloakrooms before the commencement of each performance are forbidden in the interest of accelerated movement of persons through the cloakrooms. Critics who have attended the dress rehearsal are most specifically forbidden to detain the audience of first nights by indulging in prophecy in the cloakrooms.

At 7 p.m. precisely, or at 6:30 p.m. as the case may be, a steam whistle within the Opera House will announce the commencement of the performance. Whoever has not reached his seat by that time will have to bear the consequences as threatened in the Director’s Rules dated 2 November.

After the curtain has risen, members of the public are strictly enjoined to preserve their sense of illusion. To that end, namely the retention of illusions in the auditorium, the following measures will be followed:

a)      Engaged couples who are commonly prone to disturb their neighbours and distract attention from the stage by indulging in lively discussions, will be denied entry, and the door-keepers will be instructed accordingly. Persons of both sexes entering in couples are required to give evidence of their marital status by showing their marriage certificate.

b)      Strikingly beautiful ladies who might tend to attract the glances of gentlemen, may be refused entry to the auditorium.

c)       Opera glasses may only be trained on the stage. Any person who turns his glasses upon the auditorium during a performance and thereby relinquishes his sense of illusion, will be required to pay a fine of fifty Kreuzer each time for the benefit of the pension fund.

d)      Hard sweets may only be enjoyed during a performance in such as way that the confect be laid between the tongue and the gums without the assistance of the teeth, there pressed soundlessly in the ‘i’ position of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and maintained in this position until such time as the sweetness has flowed past the base of the tongue and landed soundlessly in the throat.

e)      Coughing, clearing of the throat and sneezing can only be permitted during a fortissimo. Immediately before the commencement of a crescendo the leader of the orchestra will indicate by a sign with his bow that members of the audience may bring out their handkerchiefs in anticipation of a cough or clearing of the throat.

f)       Critics who are fond of bringing their scores to the Opera are strictly forbidden to turn the pages in view of the resulting noise. On no account is it permitted to follow the score of an opera other than the one which is being performed; in such a case the hurried leafing over pages would be even more disturbing.

g)      During the intervals lady attendants in the buffets are to ensure that no customer is permitted to consume more than one caviare roll or the like; over-rich nourishment during the intervals leads all too easily to indigestion which may dispel the illusion in the following act.

Smoking outside the Opera House before the start and after the end of the performance is permitted.

Those critics who customarily provide two newspapers with a review on the same evening are kindly permitted, where an unabbreviated Wagner performance is concerned, to facilitate the carrying out of their duties by writing one review before the performance.

The attention of visitors to the Opera is expressly drawn to the prohibition whereby that section of the audience which owing to late arrival must await the conclusion not only of the Overture but the entire first act outside the entrances, will on no account be accorded a separate performance of any sort or kind.

– L. A. Terne

Extract from the ‘Wiener Sonn – und Montagszeitung’, 8 November, 1897. It is no longer possible to ascertain the identity of the author who used this pseudonym.

Rick Phillips and Ann Kirkland invite you to join them for Sachertorte and Paprikash:Musical Meanderings Along the Blue Danube in Vienna and Budapest this fall.


  1. Larry French

    Delightful rules. Have the ring of total authenticity. Destined to avoid the frivolity of behaviour rampant at the Paris Opera as noted by Marcel Proust. Good luck to Ann and Rick, but I wouldn’t bet on their chances.

  2. Jack McManemin

    heck, those rules aren’t old by Viennese standards. My wife and I were married in Vienna in 1975 in a church, the Minoritenkirche, on which they started construction in the 12th century. I also enjoy an Austrian beer, Hirt, that says “Since 1175” on the label.
    My suggestion for an authentic Viennese coffee house is Café Sperl, Gumpendorferstraße 11. It’s a tad outside the first district, hence less tourists.

  3. Thanks Larry and Jack. How lovely that you were married in Vienna, Jack. I plan to visit the Minoritenkirche and find my way to the Cafe Sperl. We will see whether Rule b) keeps me from the Staatsoper.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *