Hannes Richter

More than just a ball

Hannes Richter
More than just a ball

Top photos: With the famous words “Alles Walzer” people are invited to hit the dancefloor

By Anja Mayer

The annual Viennese Opera Ball is one of the most prestigious events in Austria and an integral part of Austria’s cultural identity. It takes place at the Vienna Opera House and attracts over 12,000 visitors each year. The earliest balls can be traced back to the late 18th century and reached their heydays during the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Originally forbidden for being too indecent, the waltz, a dance that sees the partners in a tight embrace, received formal approval in 1835 when famous Austrian composer Johann Strauss was named Dance Music Director of the Imperial Court. In his lifetime, Strauss composed over 150 waltzes and was dedicated to introduce Viennese music to Europe. In 1877, the ball, then under the name Hofopern-Soirée, made its debut at the Vienna Opera House, where it has remained ever since. Over the years the concept of the Opera Ball has been refined to make sure that the ambience remains true to the precious tradition. Today the program of the ball starts with the festive entry of the presidential couple. After the national anthem and a rendition of Beethoven’s Praise to Joy, the God-descended, the 180 dance couples enter the festive ballroom. Finally, with the words of Johann Strauss “Alles Walzer,” the visitors are invited to take to the dance floor. Today, this unique cultural phenomenon has not only manifested itself as an inherent part of Austria’s cultural calendar but achieved to transcend cultural and international borders. As a result, events in the style of the Viennese Opera Ball are held all over the world including Dubai, Hong Kong, Budapest and New York.

In New York City, the first Viennese Opera Ball took place at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1955. Under the auspices of the U.S. – Austrian Chamber of Commerce, this exclusive white-tie charity gala, has become a perfect way for transplanted Austrians to celebrate their cultural heritage amongst many international friends. Over the years, the ball’s prestige and romantic elegance has attracted special guests like Lauren Bush and Ann Curry. As a special tradition, dignitaries, diplomats and debutantes formally inaugurate the ball before the dance floor is opened up to the eagerly waiting waltz-enthusiasts. This year, the 58th Viennese Opera Ball took place on February 1, 2013 and benefitted New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. Vice-Mayor of Vienna Renate Brauner participated in the opening ceremony in the hotel’s grand ballroom. Centerpiece of this year's program was an opera presentation which featured puppets along with human artists, inspired by the Josef Haydn marionette opera, Die Feuersbrunst (The Burning House).

After the ball, the party continued at the Tanzbar, where The Hayes Kavanagh Band and DJ Victor Lesser entertained the guests. For those who preferred a quieter atmosphere, there was the opportunity to relax in the Vienna Coffee House in the Basildon Room of the hotel.