Vienna has more balls than the equipment room at Wimbledon, but the most prestigious is surely the Wiener Opernball (Vienna Opera Ball) at the Staatsoper (State Opera House).
- Due to be held for the 65th time
- Illustrious event much beloved by many business leaders, politicians, and celebrities
- Coming ball places more focus on social solidarity and charitable fundraising
- 2023 date: February 16th
- See also:
The opera ball
(The Staatsoper at night)
Think of a ball. Now think of a bigger one. With some 5,000 guests. And more glamour. More flowers. More jewellery. And about 1000 champagne buckets (that’s a real number, not poetic exaggeration).
Then 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. The switch takes around 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.
Today’s ball is a landmark in the city’s annual calendar and a live TV spectacular. Scenes from the Opernball belong to the enduring global image of Vienna.
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 wristwatches and no visible tattoos or 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 last time out, 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, singing and similar before the youngsters perform and the first waltz plays (typically Strauss’s The Blue Danube).
(Clearing away 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 has always viewed the Opernball with admiration, however.
In the past, the event 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: a few people demonstrated back in 2018 and none at all in more recent years, for example.
The police now normally cordon off the area around the opera house on the night, anyway.
2023 dates and tickets
The date for the 2023 Opernball is February 16th. You’ll find the info (and ticket details) at the official website. I’ve also listed highly-rated hotels in the area here, should you wish to reside within walking distance of the dancefloor.
Any other night, the Staatsoper has egalitarian pricing, where you can buy a standing area ticket on the day for just a few euros. Alas, the same principle does not apply to the Opernball, where tickets cost a tiny bit more, to say the least.
An entrance ticket alone, for example, typically costs over €300. In 2023, the fee includes a donation to a charity helping people in need and the entire event is taking place in a context of social solidarity.
Food and drink prices in 2023 include a 10% donation, for example, and the Austrian state broadcaster (ORF) will incorporate fundraising within its ball reporting.
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 simply 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