Vienna has more balls than the equipment room at Wimbledon, but the most prestigious is surely the Wiener Opernball (Vienna Opera Ball) at the State Opera House.
- Held for the 65th time in 2022
- Much beloved by many business leaders, politicians, and celebrities, for example
- Not a cheap evening’s entertainment: a simple entrance ticket usually costs over €300
- 2022 date: TBA (usually February)
- The ball skips a year in 2021
- See also: Opera tickets | February in Vienna
The opera ball
(The Staatsoper at night)
Think of a ball. Now think of a bigger one. With over 5,000 guests. And more glamour. More flowers. More jewellery. And about 1000 champagne buckets (that’s a real number, not poetic exaggeration).
Throw in live reporting on national TV, invite the upper echelons of politics, business and society, and put everything into one of the world’s top and most historic opera houses.
Congratulations…you now have the Wiener Opernball (Vienna Opera Ball). For one night only, the auditorium of Vienna’s Staatsoper converts into an elegant giant ballroom (a process that takes 30 hours and up to 500 workers).
I’d like to offer an in-person review, but I’m still saving up for a ticket (only half-joking).
The first Wiener Opernball took place in the Staatsoper in 1935, but built on a history of balls and similar events held by the court or national opera house.
Reviewing that first ball, the Die Bühne magazine wrote (my rough translation):
The arguments concerning the Opernball’s likely success and whether its existence was justified were already settled half an hour before the start. The optimists (already in the majority) celebrated a brilliant victory over the pessimists…
And so began an illustrious history.
Dances and debutants
One of the grand traditions of the event is the opening procession featuring over 140 young couples, half in white ball gowns, half in black tails and white waistcoats. All follow a strict dress and appearance code (for example, no visible tattoos, no watches and no visible piercings).
The organisers take applications from around the world for those who wish to open the ball, though the requirements are fairly rigorous. And you may only participate once in your life. Folk from eleven countries participated in the 2020 opening, which also saw the first single-sex pair (two young women from Germany).
The opening as a whole is usually a grand affair, with music, ballet and opera before the youngsters perform and the first waltz plays (Strauss’s The Blue Danube).
(Clearing up the day after the ball)
Another “tradition” of a kind is the appearance of various celebrities that even non-Austrians would recognise.
Austria’s President, Chancellor and selected ministers often invite foreign dignitaries. And international glamour usually puts in an appearance: the likes of Ellie MacPherson, Lily James, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, Brooke Shields, and Pamela Anderson have all been spotted in recent years.
Not everyone views the Opernball with admiration, however.
In the past, the event has attracted sizeable demonstrations, some protesting against the ball itself as a symbol of elitism, others using the moment as a suitable opportunity to protest against, for example, the government or a particular ball guest.
Things have quietened down of late, though – only a few people demonstrated in 2018 (and none at all in 2019 and 2020). The police now normally cordon off the area around the opera house on the night.
2022 dates and tickets
The Opernball should have taken place on February 11th in 2021, but was cancelled for reasons that need no explanation. I don’t have a concrete date for 2022 yet, but you’ll eventually find the info (and ticket details) at the official website.
This is a hugely popular event and tickets sell fast. Any other night, the Staatsoper has egalitarian pricing, where you can buy a standing ticket on the day for €10. Alas, the same principle does not apply to the Opernball, where tickets are just a tiny bit more expensive.
An entrance ticket, for example, cost €315 in 2020. That got you through the door. Prices for a seat started at €210 for two spaces at a larger table and you could pay up to €23,600 for the best boxes (albeit with space for 12 guests). Food and drink not included, of course…
How to get to the Opernball
If you’re attending, you probably won’t be taking the tram. And if the taxi or limousine driver doesn’t know where the State Opera House is, then you’re in the wrong vehicle.
If you’re watching the arrivals, then the opera house is easy to reach by public transport.
Subway: the Karlsplatz station sits on the U1, U2 and U4 lines
Tram: the Karlsplatz/Oper stop faces the opera house. Tram lines 1, 2, D and 71 all stop here, for example. Note, however, that the trams are normally diverted from the early evening as the area around the opera house is closed off for the event.
Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna