Each year more than 450 balls take place in Vienna. The season starts in November and climaxes on Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, in February. The crowning glory of Vienna’s ball season or, for that matter, the European ball season, has traditionally been the Vienna Opera Ball. Held on 23rd February 2017 at Vienna’s venerable State Opera, the stage and auditorium will be transformed into a giant dance floor, in order to host a glamorous gala of unique splendour and allure, the ball of all balls, much-copied around the world.
Opera and ballet performances capture the audience only a few days before and after the Ball, and on the night itself some 5,000 guests party the night away and dance into the small hours of the morning. They are joined by international celebrities from the world of culture, business, politics, academia and sports all coming together to make the ball the high society event it is renowned for. This is an event of such magnitude in Austria, that it is broadcast live on television, and every citizen participates, be it in dazzling ballgowns at the ball itself or watching it from the comfortable surroundings of one’s home.
The Vienna Opera Ball is a very exclusive affair, with the ticket price reflecting this. A normal starter ticket is affordable even for most people, but to be at the heart of the action, in the boxes, requires a large-scale financial sacrifice: you have to be a benefactor of the opera (donations of approximately 40,000 Euros a year) and pay an additional fee. The less prestigious stage boxes go for 16,000 Euros each. The boxes are usually sold out months in advance and it is considered to be a noble gesture for a company, or a person, to invite business partners and the like to your own box.
Many millions of spectators will watch on their televisions, to see the 150 young couples, that form the young ladies and young men’s committee, make their dream come true and dance the first polonaise on this unique ballroom floor. After that, it’s Alles Walzer.
History of the Vienna Opera Ball
In 1862, the famous Theater an der Wien was given the highest honour, to be allowed to organise Ball festivities. At the time it naturally modelled its spectacular events after the extravagant Paris Opera Ball.
After much coercion, in 1877, the Austrian Emperor finally gave his consent to a soiree in his opera house. However, dancing was not officially allowed at this celebration. After the fall of the Empire in 1918, it took a surprisingly short time for the young republic to remember its love of dancing. On 21st January 1921, the Republic of Austria held the first ‘Opernredoute’, the predecessor to the official Ball. In January 1935, the event was designated for the first time, the Vienna Opera Ball, a fantastic name, whose effect did not fail in the pale light of the thirties.
How the Vienna Opera Ball is structured
The opening ceremony of the Vienna Opera Ball is always organised by the dancing school Elmayer. It is done by so-called Debutants as they give their debut to the assembled upper class of Vienna, a traditional initiation to the high society and it is still considered prestigious, to be a Debutant, in certain social environments.
The ball always opens at 10pm with a display by debutantes from around the world. Their entrance is the part everyone wants to watch. The sight of them fluttering in, dressed in white and wearing long gloves and diamante tiaras, is breathtaking. Once the opening dance is finished, the command ‘Alles Walzer!’ is given, which is derived from a phrase used by Johann Strauß, for the opening of balls. It means that the dancing now involves all attendees of the ball and that the dance floor is open for business. There are usually some other events to spice up the ball, until the traditional Mitternachtsquadrille’ when a dance and show takes place. This is followed by general dancing until the early hours.
The dress code: men wear dinner jackets with white bow ties (in order to avoid being mistaken for a waiter). The waiters wear dinner jackets with black bow ties. Women have a lot of creative freedom and it is not unusual to see some rather avant-garde creations on display.