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The fairy tale of Vienna’s Opera Ball

The pearl on the crown of Vienna’s lavish ball season

There’s nothing quite like the Viennese carnival season – it’s a thing of fairy tales and princess stories, whimsical music and impeccable dancing, elite company and a genuine royal feel. And none more so than the spectacle of the Vienna Opera Ball.

There’s a story being told for centuries about an innocent young girl dreaming of becoming a princess. Whether it is Perrault’s Cendrillon or the Grimm brothers’ Cinderella, it’s a character that every little girl relates to. Regardless of where changing trends take us, there is one reality – girls will always dream of being princesses, of carriage rides, embellished ball gowns and waltzing with Prince Charming for one perfect night.

Unluckily, the days of royal courts are long gone for most of us and even the idea of monarchy has modernized. That leaves us with no hope of ever following the path of fairy tale princesses, but there are a few places that can make you feel like a worthy young lady being presented to the high society. Vienna is the place where all these dreams feel at home. More so, the importance placed on balls and carnivals seems to be getting stronger as the rest of the world loses their whimsical nature.

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There are times to be realistic and there are times to dream. The Vienna Opera Ball is one such time, where ladies get to feel nervous like a debutante, where gentlemen ask for a dance (and can actually dance) and where princess gowns aren’t out-dated. Of course, not anyone can be a part of this delightful show; there are applications to be filed and auditions to be taken but if your waltz fits in like a dream with classical music then you get the chance to open the Opera Ball.

And you get one chance; as the real debutantes of past times, you only get welcomed into society once so you need to prepare your perfect moment down to every movement, every spotless dress and perfectly-fitting white glove. But isn’t that something that every woman wants to do? Dress like a princess, dance like a star and be applauded and envied by millions of eyes around the world.

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There are many other reasons for which the Vienna Opera Ball is legendary. Beyond its exclusivist nature, its high standards and the elite crowd taking part, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Opera House in all its glory. Stepping away from a spectator’s seat, the guests can get on the stage usually reserved for performers and go backstage to see the preparations. Even if you can’t waltz or swing, the sight of a ballroom full of young talented couples dancing to the romantic masterpieces of Johann Strauss is unforgettable.

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This year, 144 debutantes and debutants claimed their rite of passage into society while dancing to the carefully synchronized tunes of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in front of cameras and elite guests. Besides debutants, the spectacle was opened by ballet students and corps de ballet performing to Josef Hellmesberger der Jüngere’s Danse Diabolique, with renowned opera singers like hailed tenor Michael Schade or soprano Anita Hartig delighting the audience with pieces from Jules Massenet and Gustave Charpentier.

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And the audience can be nothing less than premium when there are seats reserved for years and tickets that go up to 20.000 euros. Add to all this a series of international guests from the world of culture, business, politics, science or sport and you get a crowd that’s hard to please but appreciates at their right value the importance of such an event and the symbolism behind every artistic display at the epitome of ball culture.

The imposing building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse Boulevard transforms in only three days to welcome celebrities like Roger Moore, Brigitte Nielsen, Boris Becker and Helena Christensen. Richard Lugner, an Austrian entrepreneur, is the man known for some of the tabloid-friendly guests that he held on his arm for the past few years. After Claudia Cardinale, Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton, in 2014 it was popular socialite and reality TV star Kim Kardashian that was the high-profile guest of Mr. Lugner. While some might argue that the recent choices of the businessman attract the wrong kind of attention, it still offers significant promotion to the event and contributes to its fame around the world.

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The popular presence of Ms. Kardashian was quickly analysed by style critics, most of which loved her Ralph Rucci gown with a sheer black top and a satin glow in shades of champagne in the lower part. An interesting choice, revealing yet elegant, matched with an understated hairstyle, nude lips and dramatic make-up. Besides the inevitable bits of gossip, the press and guests welcomed her arrival as an added value to an already remarkable event.

And remarkable may it stay for decades to come, as it represents a tradition of gallantry, a display of social manners and a promotion of true arts: classical music at its finest, the intricate works of ballet or waltz and the timeless elegance of aristocratic events. Or, for most ladies, a place to feel and act like royalty for a day.

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