I am a bit apprehensive as this, the 2012 Vienna Opera Ball, is probably the most formal occasion to which I will ever go. But after accumulating the required ball gown, jewelry, and formal wrap (thank you good friends!) there is nothing left to think about but enjoying Vienna and the build-up to the event.
Our hotel is the elegant Grand Hotel Vienna on the Ringstrasse in the inner city. The Ringstrasse is a grand boulevard built in 1857 by Emperor Franz Josef on the site of the ancient wall around Vienna. Today the Ringstrasse encircles the heart of old Vienna.
We are only a block or so from the Wiener Staatsoper – Vienna State Opera House – and so we notice the day before the event the comings and goings as the Opera House is transformed for this annual Austrian society happening which takes place every year on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday. Overnight the Opera House is turned into a large ballroom and a new floor, level with the stage, is built. The many anterooms are turned into casinos, discos, and oyster, coffee and champagne bars.
We fortunately have a few free hours to explore a bit of central Vienna. The Grand Hotel is a perfect location, especially in this cold weather, from which to explore the city center. We wander through the famous Pedestrian shopping area, the Karntnerstrasse, passing by the Café Sacher where the famous sachertorte has its roots. Then we duck into Stephansdom (St. Stephens’s cathedral), then head over to the Imperial Palace, the location of the private apartments of the Hapsburg royalty and also now the site of the famous Spanish riding school and the beautiful Lipizzaner stallions. But this is just a tiny taste of this lovely city.
Vienna was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and the capital of the former Austrian Empire. The University of Vienna was founded here in 1365. This is the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Mahler, and Schoenberg. This is the home to the Vienna Boy’s Choir. This city is a cultural Mecca and I am already thinking we don’t have enough time and we must come back with more time to explore!
Figlmüller is a restaurant famous for its pork (as opposed to the more famous veal) schnitzel. I am amazed that they can pound and flatten one pork loin so that it is the size of a one-foot diameter gigantic pancake, overhanging by several inches the large plate. Traditionally served with a great potato salad and lemon wedges, this is a delicious dish, but we should have shared one portion.
But back to our mission: It is now the day of the ball and we try to sleep late, as this will be a very long evening. The ladies start getting ready in the afternoon with hair and makeup appointments. Then on to dinner at the very elegant Le Ciel on the top floor of our hotel, then at 8:30 pm the one block walk to the Opera House.
My husband looks extremely elegant and handsome in the required Tail Coat (white vest and white bow tie, black coat with tails. At the Opera entrance and inside there are TV cameras and photographers waiting to catch a glimpse of celebrities or perhaps also of the loveliest gowns. The evening officially starts at 10:00 pm with the Austrian National Anthem and the Anthem of Europe (Ode to Joy by Beethoven). There is the presentation of the debutantes (“the Young Ladies Dance Committee”), then performances by the Vienna State Ballet Company and the Vienna Opera orchestra. Another treat is the performance by the opera singer Angela Gheorghiu who sings Carmen and I Could Have Danced All Night – very apropos. Finally the opening waltz is announced and everyone is invited to waltz to the strains of Johann Strauss’ On the Beautiful Blue Danube, OP 314.
I hear 3500 people are in attendance tonight (and I don’t think this includes the servers and wait staff and security). My husband and I do a requisite dance and then avoid the main floor but continue to watch the proceedings with our party from our box. After a bit we do explore the many different entertainments and activities available throughout this very large opera house. This is one big party where people obviously go to see and be seen.
At 3:00 am our host rounds us all up and we are off, still in our opera ball finery, to a local café to have the requisite after opera digestif - a Gulaschsoppa and a beer. Goulash soup is a beef and potato soup which is quite tasty (it is our “go to” snack or lunch choice in Germany and Austria) although at 4:00 am in the morning it seems as if we should be having tea and toast or alka seltzer.