Waltz sounds and champagne spirits this winter over 300 classic Viennese ball nights will provide the perfect opportunity to dance and party at some of the city’s most attractive locations. The undisputed highlights of the Viennese ball season are the Vienna Philharmonic Ball at the Musikverein (Jan 20, 2011, www.wienerphilharmoniker.at), the Coffee House Owner’s Ball at the Hofburg (Feb 25, 2011, www.kaffeesiederball.at) and the Opera Ball at the State Opera House (Mar 3, 2011, www.wiener-staatsoper.at).
Glittering Events in Vienna’s Ball Season
More than 300 balls take place in the Austrian capital every year, each attracting anywhere 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 balls. They all take place in accordance with traditional rules. First there is a ball committee, often chaired by women – experienced managers who are the soul of the ball. 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 the EUR 9,500-17,000 price tag they are highly sought after. The other prestigious balls, such as those held in Hofburg palace, are somewhat less costly.
One coercive feature of Viennese ball culture is dress. In this regard the high-brow balls are uncompromising: evening gowns for the ladies and tuxedos 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.
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 Boston. 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 100 years.
Philharmonic Ball, Bonbon Ball and Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball
One of the most high-profile balls is, of course, the Ball of the Vienna Philharmonic. This world-renowned orchestra holds its ball in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, one of the world’s most imposing concert halls, familiar to TV viewers all over the globe as the venue of the New Year’s Day Concert. The Vienna Philharmonic itself plays only for the opening of the ball. The entrance of the guests of honor is accompanied by a festive fanfare composed specially for this ball by Richard Strauss. But then the Philharmonic players leave the stage to other musicians.
In the closing phase of the ball season the traditional balls follow one another in close succession. The sequence is mostly unchanged from year to year, with the last Thursday in Fasching (carnival) reserved immutably for the Opera Ball. This is followed the next day by the Bonbon Ball, then the Lawyers’ Ball (Juristen-Ball) on Saturday and finally the Rudolfina Redoute on the last Monday of Fasching.
The Bonbon Ball is the only Fasching event to take place in the Konzerthaus, home of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Up to 4,000 guests can dance in the four concert halls. Unlike at the Opera and Philharmonic Balls, elegant evening wear such as a dark suit for the gentlemen is perfectly sufficient here.
The same cannot be said of the distinguished Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball. This ball is highly appreciated by the local population because of its typically Viennese ambiance and is virtually regarded as a smaller version of the Opera Ball. It is the only ball to use all the ballrooms in the Hofburg, including the refurbished Redoutensäle and the elegant roof foyer with its view over nighttime Vienna. It is also the largest prestigious ball in the Vienna carnival calendar with about 6,000 guests.
Whereas the Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball has been in existence since only 1956, the Lawyers’ Ball (Juristen-Ball), which takes place in Hofburg palace on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, can look back on a tradition almost 200 years old. This classically elegant ball is opened, as one would expect, by the Austrian Minister of Justice and attracts lawyers and jurists from all over the world. Many international organizations arrange meetings to coincide with the ball. The highlight at midnight, as at other prestigious balls, is the quadrille, which has been danced since the 19th century.
Johann Strauss-Ball and Rudolfina-Redoute
The Johann-Strauss-Ball was held for the first time in 2002. It is remarkable that the Waltz King, whose music dominates Vienna’s Fasching scene so completely, had never had a ball devoted to him before. As befits this famous figure, the young ball has all the classic insignia: from the opening with the State Opera Ballet to the quadrille and, of course, a midnight show. Were the famous composer to attend the ball today, he would surely accept the fact that his music – brand new in the 19th century – now shares the limelight with more contemporary rhythms.
The last of the great traditional balls is the Rudolfina Redoute at Hofburg palace on the last Monday of Fasching. It is organized by the Catholic couleur-wearing fraternity Rudolfina, named for Duke Rudolf IV, who founded Vienna University in 1365. Ball tradition does not go back this far, but it nevertheless has its roots in the monarchy.
A slightly alternative but no less festive three-four time is danced by Vienna’s gay and lesbian scene. At the glitzy Rainbow Ball, which has been held since 1998 in the historical setting of Parkhotel Schönbrunn, lesbians, gays and transsexuals also celebrate the traditional entry of the ladies’ and gentlemen’s “committee” and the hectic midnight quadrille. The exceptional feature of this event is the eye-catching and creatively designed costumes that are worn for the occasion: from classically elegant to freestyle and sixties outfits. The Rosenball at Palais Auersperg has also become a glamorous highpoint of the gay community season. The dress code is simple: anything that attracts attention.
More information on www.vienna.info.