The Ball of the Republic: Vienna Opera Ball

Vienna is the most famous place for formal balls worldwide, the National Opera of Austria is the most famous in opera worldwide (ignore the Fenice in Venice and the Scala in Milan for a moment), therefore, the most famous, most legendary, most decadent ball in the whole World is…the Vienna Opera Ball or Wiener Opernball.

Impressions of the Vienna Opera Ball of 2004 - includes some German interviews with important representatives.

The primary stage for the rich, the beautiful and the wannabes of Vienna, it is the peak of the Ball Season every spring - the ball season starts on the 11th of November and ends with Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras in February. The Opernball takes place on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday and is the most important ball in a city that has approximately 800 formal balls each season.

The government of Austria and many international rulers attend the event. Over the decades, several traditions have developed around the Opera Ball - such as demonstrations against the decadence of the event by left-wing organisations or the "Life Ball", a charity event for AIDS. The informal, gay (in every sense of the word) Life Ball finally achieved the same economic turn-over as the Opera Ball in 2007.

History of the Opera Ball

The history of the Vienna Opera Ball is often traced back to the time of the Vienna Congress, although that feels a bit dodgy to me. The Vienna Congress was a massive gathering of Europe′s top-notch nobility to create a new order after the stirrup of the Napoleonic Wars and took place between 1814 and 1815.

There were certainly balls, receptions and other formal gatherings that were crucial for the development of the Viennese ball culture in general, but I would not go as far as deriving any particular event from the balls that accompanied the congress. At the time of the Vienna Congress, today′s National Opera ("Staatsoper") was not even there yet. There were, however, balls in the imperial court′s opera.

Johann Strauss Jr was the most important composer of Waltz in Vienna

The first time that a ball was organised in today′s Staatsoper building was in 1877. This event was followed by many similar ones during the decadent days of the "fin de siecle" Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After WWI, the tradition of arranging balls did not come to halt despite of the difficult economic situation: The first post-war ball in the opera was organised in 1921, then called "Opernredoute" ("Redoute" is a term for a certain kind of ball).

In 1935, the first official "Opernball" or Vienna Opera Ball was organised, with the profits going to a charity. It was a successful event and was continued in following years. By the time of the Anschluss in 1938, the event was already traditional enough to be continued. Even in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII, the Nazis arranged an Opernball. After the war, the first Opera Ball of the Second Republic was held in 1956 and became an annual event with 1991 as he only exception due to the Gulf War.

The Cost of attending the No. 1 Ball

The Vienna Opera Ball is not only very posh and pompous, it is also extremely expensive. A normal "starter" ticket is affordable even for "ordinary" people, but boxes require a large-scale financial sacrifice: To get one of the best boxes on the ground floor or the higher floors, you have to be a benefactor of the opera (donations of approximately 40,000 Euros a year) and pay an additional fee.

A ball in 19th century ViennaThe less prestigious stage boxes go for 16,000 Euros each. Despite of such breath-taking fares, the boxes are usually sold out months in advance and it is considered to be a noble gesture for a company or a rich (meaning: seriously rich) person to invite business partners or alike to your own box.

The total number of guests is approximately 5,000. The high prices and the way Austrian entrepreneurs and economic heavyweights use (abuse?) the Vienna Opera Ball has contributed to the wide-spread perception of the event as being highly decadent, but it is also part of the brand and seems to work in favour of it. Every year, the ball is transmitted on television by the Austrian Public Broadcast ORF and followed by millions.

Continue with "Vienna Opera Ball - Part II"

Further Reading

Introduction to Vienna Waltz - Wiener Walzer

Austrian Culture and Lifestyle

Etiquette in Austria

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