So what do people wear to the Bayreuth Festival? I know dress codes are a subject close to many readers' hearts. Contrary to expectation, I spotted only one dirndl during my entire stay. And the only unusual accessory was the one taking a rest from walkies above.
For men it's easy. Black tie is the order of the day, though plenty wear lounge suits instead. Women dressed with more variety in long gowns, cocktail wear or 'Sunday best'. The younger visitors were the most formal - the only opera gloves I saw were on under-30's. I wore a tiara one night and nobody blinked. Black trousers and a fancy jacket was the uniform of more seasoned visitors. Silk shawls were popular, either to keep the chill off bare shoulders or to posh up a more basic outfit. Not many were foolhardy enough to brave the cobbles in high heels.
International visitors conformed hilariously to national stereotype - the Americans resembled Oscar nominees, the Austrians in bridesmaid taffetas, the Italian lady in a candyfloss pink mink wrap, the leathery-chested French gran in her waist-slashed gown, the scruffy Brits with our boho jumble and messy hair. All the best-dressed women were German, which may indicate how Bayreuth registers on the barometer of international chic.
All the photos below were taken during intervals.
By the way, the Festspielhaus grounds are open to all, and the more casually-dressed folk below are just out for a stroll.
In response to several queries, here is what I hope is a comprehensive list of what to wear where in London-area classical music and opera venues.
Apart from Glyndebourne, whose dress code (black tie) is here, no venue has an official dress code. Yes, you can wear what you like, and most people do. Even at Glyndebourne, there are always people in less than full evening dress.
At the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, most people dress fairly smartly (in the week, many come straight from the office). But you won't be thrown out for wearing jeans, and many dress casually. A small number of people wear evening dress, but these days it's unusual. It's much less dressy here than most opera houses in continental Europe. A suit for men and a suit or dress for women is a safe bet.
Much the same applies for the English National Opera at the Coliseum, except that there's an even greater proportion of casual dressers. It can get very hot and stuffy here in warm weather.
Holland Park Opera is similar. Here, bear in mind the semi-outdoor location affects the temperature.
As for the other main opera and classical music venues, the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall and Sadlers Wells, smart casual or office wear is the order of the day, unless it's a special event such as a gala or anniversary concert, in which case it's taken up a notch. Any elegant dressers in the bar are likely to be orchestra members on a break.
None of these venues have great temperature control, so it's best to wear layers you can take off in summer or add on in winter. The Wigmore Hall in particular has a nasty air conditioning system which alternates blasts of hot and freezing air, regardless of temperature or season.
The only things you really never see are beach wear and sports kit, even in hot weather.
Except of course at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. Although the seated areas are smarter than the standing arena, absolutely anything goes here, mainly because summer weather and 5000 bodies turn the auditorium into a steaming fetid cauldron where comfort must be the main consideration.
After getting a mindboggling number of google search hits for 'Royal Opera House dress code' I decided to do the kindly thing and write a bit about it. Then I thought why not add a few other questions I've been asked that the Royal Opera House don't cover on their otherwise pretty good website. Comments/questions/rebuttals welcome. (Also saved as a page here.)
Is there a dress code?
No. Most people dress fairly smartly (in the week, many come straight from the office), more so in the more expensive seating areas. But you won't be thrown out for wearing jeans, and many dress casually. A small number of people wear evening dress, but these days it's unusual. It's much less dressy here than most opera houses in continental Europe.
Temperature control is not great, so it's best to wear layers you can take off in summer or add on in winter.
What can I bring into the auditorium?
You can take in your coat (even though the ROH website says you can't) and small bags, though you may prefer to leave these in the cloakroom, which is free of charge and rarely has a queue of more than a minute or two. Large bags, suitcases, rucksacks, etc are not allowed in and you will be asked to leave these in the cloakroom. There's a rule against leaving stuff under seats, but it's hard for ROH staff to check this, so it's only enforced where they can see your seat clearly.
What about eating and drinking?
No food or drink is allowed in the main auditorium, though you can generally get away with a small bottle of water.
Queues for interval drinks are generally not too bad, though of course it saves some time if you pre-order. Dining options are listed on the ROH website, but the food is nothing special. With so many great restaurants in the area it's better to eat before or after. You can pre-order sandwiches for the interval at around £10 for two rounds if you need something to tide you over.
Can I take pictures or record the opera?
You probably know the answer already. Both are strictly forbidden, and I've seen ROH confiscate recording devices until the end of the performance. People do sometimes take pictures at curtain call - this is best done quickly and unobtrusively.
What happens if I arrive late, or want to leave during the performance?
The ROH website says later arrivals will not be admitted until 'a convenient break'. In practice, this means at the first change of scene, which might be between the overture and the first act, or may be a lot later, depending on the production. Be aware that could easily take ten minutes to get past the ticket and bag check and find your seat.
People generally don't leave their seats during the performance. If you do, you won't be readmitted until 'a convenient break' - that usually means the interval.
Are there any cheap seats?
Around 500 seats are priced at £5 to £30, with about half of these under £10. These are all distant or restricted view or standing only. They often sell quickly and are worth booking as far in advance as possible.
A few productions each season are cheaper than average, with top price tickets £50-ish rather than the more usual £150+. These are generally the very 20th c and new operas most likely to appeal to a younger customer, so it all works out rather nicely. Recent ones have included The Tempest, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Erwartung/Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Wozzeck.
Standby seats may be available 4 hours before a performance, at half price for the general public, or less for students, unemployed, etc. Click here for full details. If the performance is unlikely to sell out at full price, there will generally be standbys available, but the majority of these will be top price stalls tickets, which are £80-ish even at half price.
There is a £10 student standby scheme for which you need to register in advance on the website. The ROH will then email you on the day (or shortly before) to let you know about any productions for which the £10 tickets will be available.
If you create an account on the ROH website, you can join the mailing list and be notified of occasional offers. These are generally reduced prices on the most expensive seats for productions which are selling slowly, usually modern operas, second cast nights or poorly-reviewed productions.
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation provides heavily subsidised seats to members of certain arts, educational and community organisations. Click here for more information (not available to general public)
How do I get seats for a sold-out performance?
Call the box office on 020 7304 4000 regularly in the week or so before the performance for returns.
67 Day Seats are available from the ROH from 10am on the day of performance. Click here for details. The seats are in the upper and side amphitheatre and side stalls circle. Most have distant or restricted views, and are typically priced around £15 to £50. These seats are often popular, and you might need to start queuing at 8am or earlier to be sure of getting one. Phone the ROH box office for queuing advice the day before.
Ticket agencies are a last resort - they generally hold the most expensive seats only, and often charge double the face value.
How do I get tickets for a dress rehearsal?
These are available to Friends of Covent Garden (Friends membership costs £76 pa and upwards) on a limited basis at a price of around £10 to £20. Friends membership doesn't guarantee a ticket, though the ROH try to allot one dress rehearsal ticket per booking period.
Otherwise try the ROH Press or Education departments if you have a good story.....
Which are the best seats?
The interactive seating plan on the ROH website gives a reasonable idea of the view you'll get, but there are a few things it doesn't show. One of these is the relatively shallow pitching of the stalls, which means your view may be partly obstructed by the back of someone's head. All of the boxes are at the sides, and the view of the nearside of the stage is restricted from all. The seats with the best view are probably the front centre stalls circle and grand tier though both are rather distant.
Sound seems fine to me from all seats, but I'm not an acoustician, or even particularly fussy
Front rows in all sections have less legroom than rows further back. Legroom generally is distinctly average, and tall people will do best with boxes or the loose seats in the stalls circle (which are like bar stools with a backrest).
If you want to be first in the bar queue at the interval, or the cloakroom queue at the end, sit on the left hand side of the auditorium and scope out your exits beforehand.......