I had the grand pleasure of covering the 61st Viennese Opera Ball at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The words “Viennese Opera Ball” have long been synonymous with international glamour, romantic elegance and prestige. The earliest Viennese Opera Balls can be traced to the late 18th century and reached their zenith in the brilliant balls and receptions held during the 1814 Congress of Vienna. They were commemorated in history with the observation that “The Congress didn’t sit, it danced.”
The Austrian court hosted international leaders and crowned heads of state at Viennese Opera Balls. In 1854, the young Emperor Franz Joseph decreed that Vienna, the seat of his court, would be newly laid out; he added the proviso: “…the new opera house should be used for the performance of operas and ballets as well as for the celebrations of opera balls..”
Until the early 19th century, the waltz, a dance in which the partners touch and swirl together- was considered too erotic and exciting to include in events where propriety was in order. But when the great composer and orchestra director Johann Strauss was named Dance Music Director of the Imperior Court in 1835, the waltz received formal approval as an official dance in Vienna.
Johann Strauss went on to compose over 150 waltzes and did concert tours with his orchestra, introducing Viennese music to Europe. His son, Johann Strauss, Jr. became known as the “Waltz King,” as he wrote over 400 waltzes, including “Tales of the Vienna Woods,” Songs of Spring, and “Emperor Waltz.”
The waltz and the Viennese Opera all became an important Austrian Cultural phenomenon. Over time, the concept of the ball was refined to ensure that the ambiance remained true to the tradition. Thus, in 1877, the first of the “court opera soirees” (known as the “Hofopern- Soireen”) was staged. The Strauss orchestra performed under the direction of Edward Strauss (Johann, Jr.’s younger brother).
Today, the Viennese Opera Ball remains an international social landmark. The February 28, 2016, Ball in New York marked the 61st consecutive Viennese Opera Ball held under the auspices of the U.S.-Austrian Chamber of Commerce. It has become the perfect way for transplanted Austrians to celebrate their culture with their many international friends. This year’s charity beneficiaries included: Ronald McDonald House of New York and New York Rotary Foundation. To learn more visit: vienneseoperaball.us