The Vienna State Opera Orchestra not only has ties to the Vienna State Opera, but to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which draws its membership exclusively from its operatic cousin. The VSOO consists of 149 members and is regarded by many as the finest opera orchestra in the world. It has been an organization steeped in tradition, sometimes to its detriment: women were banned from playing in the orchestra until 1997. Yet its performances, both operatic and orchestral, have long been widely acclaimed by both critics and public alike. Because the Vienna State Opera has a very full schedule of operas — more than 50 productions every year, and about 200 performances that run from September 1 to June 30 — the VSOO's performances have been largely limited to operatic productions. Yet the ensemble has made more than 300 recordings over the years, many devoted strictly to orchestral music.
The Vienna State Opera Orchestra was established in 1869, though its roots, in the form of a forerunner ensemble, date back to the early 18th century. It was after the completion of the Vienna Court Opera building in 1869 that the new opera company and orchestra were officially founded.
The first music director of the ensemble (and of the opera company) was Franz von Dingelstedt, who served only until 1870. Over the years there would be 25 additional music directors, with Felix Weingartner (1908-1911; 1935-1936), Karl Böhm (1943-1945; 1954-1956), and Egon Seefehlner (1976-1982; 1984-1986) serving two terms each. Many of the music directors of the Vienna State Opera were not conductors of the orchestra, like Seefehlner and Claus Helmut Dreese (1986-1991), whose orchestral conductor was Claudio Abbado. Beside those mentioned above, other illustrious conductors of the VSOO were Gustav Mahler (1897-1907), Richard Strauss (1919-1924), Herbert von Karajan (1956-1964), Lorin Maazel (1982-1984), Seiji Ozawa (2002-2010), and Franz Welser-Möst (2010-). When the opera house, partially destroyed by bombing during World War II, was being reconstructed during the period 1947-1955, the VSOO remained quite active, not least in the recording studio. In the early '50s, for example, Hermann Scherchen made a dozen or so recordings with the VSOO of orchestral works by Beethoven, Bartók, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and others. Conductors Mário Rossi and Jonathan Sternberg also made a number of recordings with the VSOO during that period. Among the VSOO's later recordings is the 2007 TDK DVD of Verdi's Don Carlo under conductor Bertrand de Billy.