Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Vienna Opera Ball

Ash Wednesday is once again around the corner which means that Carnival is soon coming to a close and so is the ball season, at least here in Austria. Tonight, as always on Thursday preceding Shrove Tuesday, the most festive and most famous Austrian ball is held at the Vienna State Opera. The auditorium is transformed into a large ballroom where aproximately 5000 guests will come together. As always young ladies in long white gowns and young gentlemen in tuxedos with tail and white ties, the debutantes, will open the ball to the tunes of Carl Michael Ziehrer's Fächerpolonaise.

The Vienna Opera Ball has a long history. Its roots date back to the eighteenth century before today's opera house had even been built. The whole event reminds of the days when Vienna was still the mondane capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The black-yellow age of the Habsburg Empire, or more precisely of Emperor Franz Joseph and Sisi, is past as Joseph Roth lamented so brilliantly in Radetzky March (1932) and in The Emperor's Tomb (1938), but the Austian ball culture has survived. So has the very strict dress code: only floor-length ball gowns and tuxedos with tail are accepted at the Vienna Opera Ball which gives the event a fairy-tale like air.

The original opera house was designed by the architects August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll and opened in 1869. Only some years later ball festivites were allowed at the then Royal and Imperial Court Opera, a tradition that was resumed shortly after World War I and the collapse of the monarchy. The first Vienna Opera Ball as we know it today was held in 1935 and suspended during the years of World War II. The already then famous opera house was severely damaged in the last bombings of 1945, only two months before Austria surrendered and the war ended. The auditorium and the stage were completely destroyed by flames and it took almost ten years to rebuild them similar to the original. In 1955 the Vienna State Opera was reopened and in 1956 the first Vienna Opera Ball was held after Austria's rebirth.

The Vienna Opera Ball has become an internationally renowned event that every year attracts celebreties from around the globe. Politicians, aristocrats, industrialists, businessmen, actors, journalists, artists,... and wonnabes come together at the ball. The Austrian Public Broadcast ORF transmitts the ball live and millions of people follow the polonaise and the interviews with famous guests worldwide. Many Austrians dream of attending the Vienna Opera Ball at least once in their lives although it's a tremendously expensive pleasure. The mere entrance ticket costs 250 Euros per person while the best boxes are available at 18,500 Euros.

As for me, I could hardly care less about this ball! I'm no fan of big events like this - too crowded, too loud, too meaningless. I prefer taking my time for something useful like writing this blog.

For last year's opening of the Vienna Opera Ball please follow the link to youtube:

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