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The Vienna Opera Ball
Viennese Opera Ball
Just as already the operetta and the waltz had been imported from Paris to Vienna, comes also the model for the Vienna Opera Ball from the Seine metropolis. By a corresponding approval of Duke Philip of Orleans, on 2 January 1716 a “public ball” can be held for the first time, to which everyone has access who can pay the admission fee of five livres. First, the balls take place at the Comédie française, but already in 1717 was given the Académie de Musique, the Paris Opera House, the special right of the organization. Nevertheless, in the Comédie furthermore take place balls, with the audience far more popular than the ‘opera balls’.
In 1861 the construction of an opera house begins at the Ringstrasse, on the explicit desire of Emperor Franz Joseph not solely intended for performances of operas and ballets, but also for the staging of the Opera Ball. With this, have been created both the spatial and the official conditions for a genuine Viennese Opera Ball according to Parisian model. It should, however, take another eight years before a dance event in the opera could be held for the first time after the completion of the house in 1869.
Initially, due to the increasing violence at the Paris balls but only Court Opera soirees take place. This includes elegant evening soirees with musical entertainment, but without dancing. On 11 December 1877 opened the court musical director Wilhelm Gericke the first Court Opera Soirée with the “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn. After several concert pieces the baton is handed over to the Strauss family. First, Johann Strauss son conducts the Vienna Philharmonic with a waltz, followed by his brother Edward with a specially for this day composed “Opera Soirée Polka”. After that, the dance-crazed Viennese are no longer stoppable: all chairs were put to the side, and the evening, which was thought without dance pleasure, ends like a ball. This is the hour of birth of the opera ball, even though for the time being still far away from being called so.
Already the second event on 15 January 1878 is announced officially as “Second Hofopernsoirée (Ball)”. The third, for 12 February 1878 scheduled Soirée, is canceled for reasons of piety, since Pope Pius IX. a few days earlier had died. After the uncomplicated election of Leo XIII. to new head of the Church the ball is on 23 February rescheduled.
After these three opera soirees from March of the same year take place redoutes in the Court Opera, continuing the tradition of masked balls and linked with strict dress code: “in the hall, with the exception of the lodges, the ladies the stay is only permitted in an elegant mask, short costumes are not allowed. The gentlemen of civil appear in evening dress with white cravat, cylinder or Claquehut (opera hat – chapeau claque). “During the next twenty years during the carnival time each year should be organized two, in some seasons even three redoutes. However, at these festivals the Viennese society is not as boundless as once united in the common ball pleasure, because in the meantime the guests are spread across three different levels, not only differing in space but also in the appearance of guests from each other. Are the boxes the aristocratic guests in elaborate ball gowns reserved, so gather in the stalls the bourgeois guests, for which there is no mask constraint. In addition, there are the galleries that are accessible to every viewer without special admission ticket.
1899 the popular balls for the time being come to an abrupt end, as is discovered that the opera for such festivals does not comply with the safety regulations. Since an appropriate conversion proves to be too costly, the redoutes are discontinued for an unforeseen period of time. A certain compensation for those festivals offers in the following years the in the new town hall held “Ball der Stadt Wien”.
Only in 1921, the tradition of the redoutes in the Court Opera has been resumed, but without being able to follow on the success of previous years. After several breaks followed in 1924, 1928 and 1929 again opera redoutes, neither musically nor stylistically corresponding with the level of the defunct imperial monarchy-time and they are not characterized by the former wit, charm and temperament. The twenties are not only politically, but also culturally a very different time in which with the progressive emancipation of women the meaning of a redoute became obsolete.
And so 1935 is launched the first as such referred to Opera Ball. In a time of political uncertainty, it complied in addition to social also with diplomatic and official representative purposes. Therefore, it takes no wonder that the guest list has many personalities from politics. The last opera ball before the outbreak of the Second World War should be organized in 1939, when Austria was already ‘connected’ by Adolf Hitler to the German Reich. Therefore respectively stiff and artificial resulted according to that this night on which no happiness will raise, previously the rule.
Reopening of the Vienna State Opera, 1955
Shortly before the end of World War II, the Vienna Opera House on 12 March 1945 almost completely was destroyed by a bomb. It should take ten years until the house was rebuilt and with Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” at the 5th November 1955 ceremoniously could be opened. In the following carnival season with this also the first opera ball of the post-war period can be celebrated, but which has changed its face much: “Actually, the Opera Ball is not a Viennese event anymore, but already a pan-European one. A ball night for which the world envies us”.
This new image has remained to this day, with the only difference that the Opera Ball is now no longer considered only as a pan-European, but as an international event. A highlight of the evening is the annual opening of the ball by about 180 debutantes who on the arm of the to them for this evening assigned Cavaliers in a Polonaise move in. After the Vienna Philharmonic for many years had taken over the musical interpretation of the evening, there is since 1982 a Vienna Opera Ball Orchestra grounded specifically for this purpose. In addition, since 1984, there is also a Viennese Opera Ball Ladies Ensemble, made up of 15 musicians and beyond the ball unfolding a very busy concert schedule.
Today on the Opera Ball there is not exclusively danced just waltz anymore. Up to ten orchestras or soloists play at the same time in different places of the house, and as a concession to modern times there is since some years even a nightclub. And yet, the waltz enjoys as the king of dances to this day unbroken popularity, without which for many no Viennese Opera Ball is thinkable. Another innovation is also the since 1981 in the Schwind Foyer installed Viennese Opera Ball Casino, which is a special attraction especially for the younger guests. Collectors will also appreciate the annually by the casino issued special Opera Ball chips.
How to become a debutante?
Proposals are now mostly send in by the dance schools of the country. The first condition is the perfect mastery of the links waltz, which is checked at a Vortanztermin (dance audition date – don’t worry, the Lipizzans are doing the same!). Has the potential debutante overcome this hurdle with flying colors, it is about to find a suitable partner for the big night. The criteria for this choice are less situated in personal relationships than in pure dance qualities. After finally the couples have found each other, for five days under the expert guidance of several ballet master not only the links waltz, but also the choreography of the marching in is practiced until everything is perfectly rehearsed. The question of clothes is strictly regulated for the couples: the ladies in white dresses with a little crown on the head and the gentlemen in evening dress. To underline the internationality of the ball, every year also Debütantinnen and Debütanten from around the world are invited.
Artists from the world of the theater and the music, film and television can be found on the Vienna Opera Ball as well as well-known athletes and fashion designers. Diplomats and politicians from home and abroad appreciate the special atmosphere, and every now and then you meet also members of the European nobility. The Opera Ball today is no longer just a lavish celebration in which together a whole evening and a full night is celebrated, but increasingly also a social forum that connects professional and political contacts in a pleasant way with a social event.
In recent decades, the Vienna Opera Ball, however, has not only found unanimous support, but has been increasingly criticized. In the 80s made fights between angry citizens that characterized the event as a “festival of the political and monetary bigwigs” and the police the headlines. Unforgettable is also the demonstration against the reprocessing plant Wackersdorf when in 1987 the Bavarian Prime Minister Franz-Josef Strauss participated in the Opera Ball. In addition, now almost every year during the opera ball take place demonstrations against these seemingly senseless waste of funds in the face of hardship and misery, hunger and wars, social and health problems in the world.
Nevertheless, the Opera Ball has lost none of its fascination and all over the world – from Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur and Korea to Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul and Dubai, Ankara, Istanbul, Kiev, Prague and Budapest to Rome, New York, Los Angeles and Washington – it found imitation, without being able to ever really come close to the Viennese model. Even if the question of the contemporaneity of the Vienna Opera Ball ever and again was controversially discussed, at the latest in 2005 has been shown that even this traditional event cannot stop short before general social changes: for the first time a smoking ban for the Opera Ball was pronounced.