Sausages, Sisi, Sorvino -- and music -- at Vienna ball

VIENNA, Austria, Simon Sturdee- The Austro-Hungarian empire may be long dead but Viennese high society was back with a bang Thursday for the annual waltzing, music and show-off extravaganza that is the Opera Ball.
Dressed up to the nines and paying through the nose, the high point of the social calendar sees celebrities, politicians and tycoons rub shoulders with aristocrats and nervous debutantes.

Image by Heikenwaelder Hugo, Austria,, Accessed via Wikipedia.
Image by Heikenwaelder Hugo, Austria,, Accessed via Wikipedia.
In testament to the staying power of waltzing and the traditional Viennese ball -- as well as Austrians' undiminished wealth -- the 5,150 tickets costing 250 euros ($335) were snapped up for another year running.
And the ticket just gets you into the Vienna State Opera, converted into a cavernous ballroom for the 144 debutante couples to spin around live on national television.
Adding considerably to the expense is the dress code: white tie and tails for the gentlemen and long ball gowns for the ladies, preferably of the expensive and eye-catching variety.
"Again and again a considerable number of guests don't comply with the dress code," complained fashion expert Irmie Schuech-Schamburek. "One Austrian woman came once in a sari and flip-flops."
Setting the bar high this year was Patricia Schalko, partner of property magnate Georg Stumpf, who hired Lebanese designer Elie Saab for her outfit at a reported cost of 150,000 euros.
"I am a personal friend of Elie's. I flew to Paris specially. It took 100 seamstresses to sew it." Schalko let it be known in the daily paper Oesterreich. "A dream!" she gushed.
Not to be outdone was the larger-than-life German designer Harald Gloeoeckler, who rolled up Cinderella-style in "hommage" to the legendary Sisi, tragic bride of Emperor Franz Josef.
He arrived in what he termed "an imperial carriage drawn by six splendiferous horses, with six footmen in rococo costumes."
Those wishing not to slum it downstairs can have a box -- provided they are willing to fork out an extra 9,000-18,500 euros.
This is not a problem for perennial Opernball fixture Richard Lugner, the 80-year-old entrepreneur who every year makes headlines by arriving with a different starlet on his arm.
Previous Lugner partners have included Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Silvio Berlusconi's alleged teenage Moroccan squeeze "Ruby the Heart-Stealer", Karima El Mahroug.
This year the honour went to Italian film diva Gina Lollobrigida and Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who confessed beforehand to being nervous about waltzing: "We have balls in America, but not like this," she said.
Food at least was reasonable, with a pair of sausages costing 10 euros, and 1,800 pairs ready to eat. A glass of sparkling wine was a snip at 21 euros. More expensive tipples and nibbles were of course also on offer.
There was nothing cheap though about the evening's musical entertainment, with the prestigious Vienna Philharmonic opening the ball.
Once the debutantes had filed in, the guests were treated to a programme of ballet and opera, with Moldovan soprano Valentina Nafornita singing "Quando M'en Vo'" from Puccini's "La Boheme" and a rendition of "Fin Ch'han Dal Vino" from Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" by the Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka.
It was all too much for one tiara-wearing debutante though, fainting and falling flat on her face. However, she fully recovered later for the dancing.

Friday, February 8th 2013
Simon Sturdee

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