Saturday, February 17, 2007

Vienna Opera Ball

The Vienna Opera Ball came and went last Thursday. The Opera Ball is the highpoint of the Vienna ball season and being priced accordingly I was not there, but I thought it would be fun to share a bit about it. The ball in addition to being the height of the ball season, is also the height of the Viennese carnival celebrations, taking place in the State Opera, where the stage is extended to cover entire orchestra section of the opera. A series of rich dignitaries and their spoiled children then enter, prance about, and then the ball is opened for everyone (who can afford to go). The whole thing is very grand and is televised for hours on end in both Austria and Germany.

There is also the tradition that Austrian businessman Richard Lugner 'buys' a woman for the ball each year. This year it was Paris Hilton who had the honor of being paid one-million dollars to attend the ball with a gaggle of hangers-on. Poor Paris didn't have such an easy time though. Apparently when she tried to enter the country her passport had expired (fortunately the US ambassador to Austria was able to vouch with her, somehow I don't think she would do that for me), and the had things thrown at her by protesters while shopping in Vienna. She then proceeded to look extremely bored at the ball itself.

For me it was just funny because the Opera Ball is pretty much considered the height of Austrian tradition, sophistication, and grandeur. Austrians really don't like it to change as it a link to long gone imperial past. That being said, despite Paris Hilton being a celebrity (famous for being famous as they say) I don't really associate her with class. With fame, sure, money, yes, stupidity, absolutely, but not class. So for me it was just funny that whenever the Opera Ball, the symbol of Austrian sophistication, was being advertised Paris Hilton name was automatically attached, as if to say 'Hey guys the Opera Ball is really a big deal this year, not just like how we have been pretending all those other years, because the queen of America, Paris Hilton is coming.'

So one last thing. The Opera Ball as a blatant manifestation of opulent capitalism also has a really rich tradition of protests. People used to really get into it. They would yell, scream, challenge the police, and throw Molotov cocktails. Pretty exciting stuff for Austria. Anyway, for the past few years there really hasn't been much in the way of protests. Oh sure, I saw more Austrian police in one place last Thursday than I had ever seen before and they had shut down streets, but there weren't really any protesters, only some scraggly looking folks who were used to getting drunk in the subway passages in front of the opera the police had barricaded. All those police with nothing to do seemed a bit of a waste and most Austrians I have met also seem to miss the protests of the good old days.

So on one very last note, apparently there is a very similar ball in New York, which from my limited knowledge of Austrian balls looks pretty authentic. Check it out.

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