Vienna waltzes off recession at Opera Ball

20th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

‘Desperate Housewives’ star Nicollette Sheridan brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to what is by far the most opulent of the nigh-on 1,000 balls held in the Austrian capital during Carnival season.

Vienna -- Crisis, what crisis? The 5,500 guests who waltzed through the night at this year's Vienna Opera Ball, the glittering highlight of Austria's social calendar, swept the world's financial woes under the red carpet, at least for a few hours on Thursday evening.

"Desperate Housewives" star Nicollette Sheridan brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to what is by far the most opulent of the nigh-on 1,000 balls held in the Austrian capital during Carnival season.

The spectre of recession was temporarily banished by the hundreds of dazzling chandeliers that light up Vienna's legendary opera house, spectacular festoons of flowers and a seemingly never-ending stream of champagne.

The glitzy opening ceremony featured the dance of the debutantes, 160 young couples making their debut in Vienna's high society.

Then, with the words "Alles Walzer" (Everybody Waltz), the floor was opened up to the other guests -- Austria's political, business and social elite all dressed to the nines in tailcoats and ball gowns -- who waltzed to the strains of "The Blue Danube."

A number of business leaders cancelled this year. At a time when many Austrian companies are laying off workers as a result of the global economic and financial crisis, it was not thought appropriate to fork out anywhere near the 42,000 euros (53,000 dollars) for one of the opera house's boxes.

Volksbank and Constantia, two banks severely hit by the financial crisis, gave back the boxes they had booked in recent years.

Even top companies, such as steelmaker Voestalpine and Japanese carmaker Toyota discreetly decided to forego their usual boxes.

Nevertheless, this year's event -- which marked the 140th anniversary of the Vienna Opera Ball -- was completely sold out. The country's political guard, too, were out in force, with President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Werner Faymann and his deputy Josef Proell all occupying the box of honour.

"Austria is well positioned in the crisis, so why should we cancel the ball," said President Fischer.

Outside the ornate opera house, 400 police officers were on guard in case any demonstrations might turn nasty, as they have done in previous years.

But few protestors chose to brave the snow and icy winds buffeting the city and the evening passed without incident.

Because 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of composer Josef Haydn, his music occupied pride of place on the evening's programme.

The ball also paid homage to the city of Linz, which is one of Europe's two cultural capitals this year.

The guests are given the full run of the legendary opera house for the evening. In addition to the ballroom in the main auditorium, small bars and discos are hidden away in every corner of the building, playing not only classical waltzes, but pop and jazz as well.

Guests paid 230 euros for their tickets, but also had to dig deep for refreshments, with beer costing eight euros and a glass of champagne 29 euros.

But no price could be too high "for being a princess for the evening," whispered one young debutante.

Luc Andre/AFP/Expatica

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