The Wiener Ball
Cafe de Paris, Monte Carlo 2018
Vienna is the only place in the world where Balls, still rule the social life in the winter months
I have been invited to display a selection of oil paintings at the ball on the 10th March 2018 at the Cafe de Paris, Monte Carlo. I wanted to understand a little more about the event and spoke with Verena Meyer the Founder of the Cultural Association Vineta Monaco and Organiser of the Wiener Ball Monaco.
The Wiener ball is inspired from the famous Viennese balls that take place in the Hofburg Palace (from where the ‘Habsburgs’ once reigned over the Austro Hungarian Empire), the season starts with the New Year’s Eve Imperial Ball (Kaiserball) at the Hofburg and the Opera Ball in February. But there are now other balls running until the month of June.
To the casual visitor there is something unreal about these balls. We are not accustomed to such romanticism. But a hundred years ago every court in Europe held receptions such as these: London, Paris, all the capital cities had their Ball seasons in the days when the guests arrived in their own carriages with their coats of arms painted on the doors. Nowadays we only know this form of gaiety from films and plays or as the backdrop of operetta. However Vienna is still entertaining this style of ball and the Wiener Ball is an introduction or a reminder of the elegance and opulence of these balls
THE VIENNESE BALL SEASON
Historically, during Fasching (Carnival) the lower classes were allowed to wear costumes and masks to mimic aristocracy and heads of church and state without fear of retribution for mockery. Sometimes, when things got out of hand, the custom was forbidden, although this was temporary. Even Empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780) decreed at one point that masks would no longer be allowed in the streets, whereupon the revelry was moved indoors. This was the beginning of the splendid Viennese Balls for which Vienna has become so famous and the real business of Fasching is, first and last, dancing but it is also a season of jollification for the entire city.
THE VIENNA OPERA BALL
His Majesty did not approve. Emperor Franz Josef refused the request by the artists of the Imperial Opera House to hold a Viennese ball in “their” magnificent premises on the Ring Boulevard, which had been completed in 1869.
However, the first Court Opera Ball took place in the Musikverein, another magnificent and recently completed building and the home today of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which gives concerts and holds its own ball there. The permission of the sovereign to hold a “soirée” in the new opera house was not granted until 1877 – with the proviso that there be no dancing. But the Viennese found a way around it as the evening drew on. As the Wiener Fremdenblatt reported “ it was very difficult at first but the Viennese spirit held firm and after midnight the first real dance took place in the ballroom of our opera house”.
The Viennese craze for dancing had prevailed. After the legendary balls during the Vienna Congress in 1814/15, vast circles of the population had been bitten by the bug. The number of balls arranged by artists, including events in the Redoutensäle of the imperial Hofburg, increased.
Johann Strauss and his waltzes for the Viennese Ball, became so well known that in 1835 he was appointed Court Ball Music Director. Johann Strauss junior and became even more popular than his father; the Viennese called him the “Waltz King”.
His most popular waltz, “The Blue Danube”, was written in 1867 and has become a kind of national anthem. Needless to say, no ball would be complete today without it. The decline of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918 did not affect the holding of imperial Viennese Ball at the Opera House for very long. Three years later, the invitation “Alles Walzer” (“Everybody Waltz”) was to be heard again. However, Hitler did away with the Vienna Opera Ball, its designation since 1935, and it was not until February 1956 that the tradition was resumed in the rebuilt State Opera House.
Since then the Opera Ball has been an act of state: every year Parliament declares the event the official “Ball of the Republic”. As in the days of Emperor Franz Josef: To the sound of a fanfare, the head of state and the Austrian government appear in full regalia in the middle loge of the State Opera House, the very loge that used to be reserved for the Emperor. The 5,000 guests – women in evening dress, men exclusively in tails – stand while the Austrian and European national anthems are played. A festive sight and one that is firmly rooted in the tradition of the Opera Ball and other balls held during the season.
GLITTERING EVENTS IN VIENNESE BALL SEASON
Almost 400 Viennese Balls take place in the Austrian capital every year, each attracting anything between 200 and 5,500 guests. What other European city can match this tradition? Given these numbers, slick organization is required, especially for the prestigious Viennese Balls. They all take place in accordance with traditional rules. First there is a ball committee, then there is an honorary committee including high-ranking personalities. The high-profile balls are normally under the patronage of the Federal President. All names appear in the invitation, a pamphlet that also gives the date and venue, dress code, program and of course, the admission charge.
The loges at the Opera Ball are extremely expensive but despite their price – EUR 18,000 – they are highly sought after. The other prestigious balls, such as those held in Hofburg palace, are somewhat less costly.
One co-ercive feature of Viennese Ball culture is dress. In this regard the high-brow balls are uncompromising: evening gowns for the ladies and white tie, black tie for the gentlemen. For the Opera Ball even this is not enough – here, it’s tails or not at all.
It is surprising to see how many young guests are willing to bow to these rules. A tradition dating from the first half of the 19th century is the “Damenspende”, a token gift presented to the ladies. In the days of the monarchy this might have been an elaborately crafted bijou such as a mother-of- pearl fan.
These days it could be an elegant watch, confectionery, a CD or even, as in the early days, an artistically designed dance card, on which gentleman used to reserve a dance. In the era of gender
equality, some balls also have a “Herrenspende” for men.
CEREMONY AT TRADITIONAL BALLS
The main ceremonial feature of all traditional Viennese Balls is the opening by the young ladies’ and gentlemen’s “committee”. The girls opening a ball for the first time are called debutantes. This debut is part of the ritual of entering into adulthood – the introduction into society – which dates back to the days of the monarchy.
Dressed in a long white robe with a coronet in their hair, long white gloves and a small bouquet in their right hand, they proceed onto the dance floor arm in arm with their tuxedoed escorts to the music of the “Fächer-Polonaise” by Carl Michael Ziehrer, former chief conductor of the imperial court, which is played at practically all opening ceremonies. At the end of this solemn ritual comes a waltz – with the pairs turning anticlockwise.
This is not as easy as it might sound and is perhaps one of the reasons why dance schools are so well attended. In Vienna alone there are over thirty of them. It is the schools that organize the opening ceremony. After having taught their students the necessary steps and held several rehearsals to inaugurate them into the secrets of the special choreography that they have devised. Great importance is attached to the aesthetic precision of the figures, even among debutantes, after all, who wants to dance out of line?
At all prestigious balls the opening ceremony ends with a military-sounding “Alles Walzer” from the director of the dance school organizing the ball, inviting all of the guests onto the dance floor, this time to waltz in a clockwise direction.
The Opera Ball decor is unique. Hundreds of palms and lilacs are to be found on the magnificent staircase and in the foyer of the State Opera House. The ballroom is also adorned with thousands of flowers. It is hard to believe that it was the scene of an opera performance a couple of evenings previously. As soon as the curtain goes down on the final act, over three hundred workers start to convert the opera house for the ball. The seats in the stalls are removed. A dance floor is laid over the orchestra pit at stage height. Instead of the wings, loges are erected on three levels in line with the loges in the auditorium. Within thirteen hours the opera theater is thus transformed into a harmonious, uniform and festive golden ballroom.
The Opera Ball is probably one of the most famous and elegant balls in the world. Live TV broadcasts have increased awareness of it even further. It has no shortage of imitators: from Istanbul and Tokyo to San Francisco. But only in Prague and Budapest do these balls actually take place in the opera house. Even here the old ties from the days of the monarchy can be felt. Although the other prestigious balls in Vienna are not quite as well known, each of them has an unmistakable profile and a tradition in some cases that goes back over hundred years.
For more information
Contact: Verena Myer
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
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