How to see an opera in Italy without breaking the bank

How to see an opera in Italy without breaking the bank

Like so many of our interactions in Italy, we were left completely baffled by the process of trying to buy cheap tickets to watch an opera at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala.


I love all kinds of theatre and am slowly trying to introduce Mr A to opera, but while he’s quite amenable to sitting through a few hours of singing, what’s he wasn’t so keen on was the 75+ euro price tag of the cheapest tickets I could find for Handel’s Tamerlano on the theatre’s official website (especially when they came with ‘restricted views’).

So, always on the lookout for a bargain, and having managed to bag some cheap tickets for the Sydney Opera House during my visit to Australia, I did a bit of investigating to see whether there was another way to buy them. After digging around for a bit, I managed to find a website that suggested that on the day of every performance 120 cheap tickets go on sale at the Ticket Office. It was all a bit vague, with no actual mention of the price, and the process to buy them sounded very convoluted, but the main advice I took away from it was that you had to be in the queue by 1pm. That we could do. So we decided to chance our luck and go for it.

Mr A always laughs at my insistence that we arrived in queues early, but nevertheless my determination that we should be there by at least 12.30pm paid off as people were also lining up when we arrived at the Ticket Office (which is down the side of the theatre on Via Filodrammatici). Heading up the queue was a bunch of old men, on fold-up chairs, who obviously knew how the game worked and we were reassured that we were in the right place.

The cheap ticket system at Teatro alla Scala is actually managed by a volunteer group, rather than the theatre itself, which may explain why it’s so complicated. Or maybe they just want to make sure that it’s only the super-keen fans who actually make it through the process.

Firstly, at 1pm exactly a lady appeared and took everyone’s name and gave us a number. Two very important things here: You must have some ID such as a passport with you and you must be there in person to buy your own ticket. So no standing the queue and trying to buy two tickets, like the poor confused tourist in front of us who was told in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t on.

We were then instructed to return to the same place at 5pm. So we went off to see The Last Supper and returned at the allotted time. After another half an hour of aimlessly milling around two more volunteers came out with the list from earlier. They called out the numbers we’d previously been given, checked our ID and gave us a piece of paper with another number on it. While we still didn’t have a clue what was going on, we just knew that we had to do what we were told as the volunteers were actually quite strict and even told one man off for arriving after the 5pm deadline.

After more waiting around the doors to the Ticket Office finally opened and our numbers were called out in blocks of five. We moved into another queue, with no idea how much we’d be asked to pay or where we’d be sitting, and were eventually allocated two ‘restricted view’ seats for 13 euros each.


Pleased with our purchase, although still completely baffled by the system, we raced back to our apartment to get changed (depending on where you are staying it might be worth going to collect the tickets at 5pm in your opera outfits, as we found ourselves very pushed for time to get back to the opera house in time for 7pm.)

An hour later we were back at the Teatro alla Scala, walking through the impressive entrance way and into a world of glass chandeliers and mirrored glass doors. Everyone around us was very dressed really elegantly and we excitedly handed our tickets to the attendant, only to be brought back to earth with a bump, as it was explained that we were at the wrong entrance. We were directed back outside to a small, narrow staircase, which seemed much more in keeping with the ticket price we had paid!


When we eventually reached our seats in the very top stalls, we had an amazing view of the entire theatre. We also discovered, that when the Italians say ‘restricted view’ they really do mean that. In the seats we had been allocated we actually couldn’t see the stage unless we stood up and leaned on a bar which was positioned above our heads for the very purpose.

However, when the performance started we saw a few people moving around and getting into positions where the views were better. As I was seven months pregnant and not keen on standing for the whole performance, I followed suit and managed to bag an empty seat on the front row of our stall, which meant that I had a pretty good view of the whole performance.


And I was so pleased that I did, because as well as the amazing singers, who were dressed in gorgeous costumes, the staging of Tamerlano was also amazing.

It may have been a bit of a mission to get the tickets, but it was such a fantastic night and was the perfect end to our stay in Milan. I think even Mr A might be coming around to the opera!