“Alles Walzer!” “Everyone waltz!” These are the opening words of the famous Vienna Opera Ball, held Feb. 7, at the fabulous Vienna State Opera hall built for His Majesty Kaiser Franz Joseph I in 1863.
About 200 girls in white long evening gowns with coronets in hair, and the boys in frock coat, swallowtail, start on that command to waltz left, a difficult variety, under the proud eyes of their parents, also in evening gowns and frock. And besides, the entrance fee ranges from the ‘Olymp’ with $2,000 to the Parkett with $20,000…champagne not included.
For the annual event, the opera’s auditorium transforms into a large ballroom. The seat rows are removed and a new floor is installed level with the stage.
Over the last 57 years this ball has fascinated Vienna’s society: Who has the best network and influence to promote his daughter or son to open this ball and thus prove himself as an important person?
A further question in which the yellow press is involved: Who will be the guest of old (83) Richard Lugner, a Vienna building tycoon, who invites at his expense a star or starlet to accompany him. This year, finally, the big win: Gina Lollobrigida!
But not so for Elfriede Jelinek, Nobel Prize winner of 2000, Peter Turrini, Nestroy Theater Prize of 2011; Matthias Hartmann, chief of the Vienna Burgtheater, and Michael Haneke, director of the prize-winning movie “Amour”. They are among protesters of the ball, who have complained of its fascist leanings, and who are calling forth issues of arts and social struggles:
“Stop exploiting arts! Don’t exploit the Budapest National Theatre!” The ultra right Hungarian government is cutting off the liberties of the arts – Budapest is losing her broad-mindedness.
Not for the German dancer and choreographer Raimund Hoghe who prefers “to throw his body into the fight,” giving two performances at Vienna Dance Quarter. With his humpback and his small body, he develops a “sweet” revolution against artificial vitality as Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen by European intellectuals. (Just to remember: A.J. Liebling called his scenes of low life “The sweet Science”…)
The protests over the ball actually led UNESCO in January of last year to drop it from a list of Austrian cultural traditions the United Nations agency has compiled.
Still, the ball goes on, with organizers claiming no link to the far right.
The Mardi Gras season finishes on Ash Wednesday with a solemn Catholic mass at St. Stephan Cathedral in the heart of the city, reminding us: “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
It also reminds us there’s no more “Alles Walzer!” for us! At least till November 11, when the new season will start.