The 65th Viennese Opera Ball was held on Friday, February 7, 2020, with cocktails beginning at 7:30 PM. The evening paid tribute to Austrian culture with an emphasis on strengthening the ties between the United States and Austria. This is the most prestigious and oldest ball outside of Vienna and the more than 400 guests came to Cipriani ready to dance and party.
Chairs Jean Shafiroff, Elisabeth Muhr, Alexander Van der Bellen (President of Austria) and Denise Rich joined more than 400 others including Ann Ziff, Joanna, and Brian Fisher, Nicole and Allen Salmasi, the Fishel and Miller family, Lucia Hwong Gordon and John Paulson for an electrifying night. The proceeds from the $1100 ticket event, with VIP tickets selling for $1,400 and Junior seats for $600, benefited the music therapy program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The dress code was white tie, long ball gowns, and decorations; a perfect fit for philanthropist Jean Shafiroff who started off the evening in a sweeping Oscar gown and concluded with a red beaded Herrera that was nothing short of spectacular. After a brief cocktail hour, guests headed to the ballroom where 14 debutantes clad in white gowns were escorted by their debonair beaus as they danced the Polonaise and Alles waltzes accompanied by a full orchestra conducted by Matthias Fletzberger.
Visions of the old days when pomp and circumstance were the norms were immediately conjured up as the romantic setting led to an otherworldly atmosphere. I was seated near a young man who had flown in from Seattle the week prior to practice the dance with his partner-who was stocking up on Red Bull in order to last until the 4 AM conclusion. Enlivening the evening with “Nessun Dorma” were opera stars Corinne Winters, Joyce El-Khoury, Ewa Plonka, Lummie Pullam, and Michael Spyres who had the audience spellbound with their immense talent.
After an elaborate beef dinner was served, one of the few charities that have not succumbed to the vegetarian hysteria, a dessert of chocolate cake and key lime pie concluded the food portion of the evening. As 12 AM struck, guests headed to the dance floor for the Quadrille: a dance that was fashionable in late 18th and 19th-century Europe that consists of a chain of four to six couples. I had great difficulty following the structure of the dance and opted out after a couple of minutes as hundreds of others proceeded more successfully.
There was a palpable revelry in the room at that late hour that lasted until the bar closed at 4 AM. As someone who is undoubtedly nocturnal, I am forever hopeful that the new trend at galas will be late-night partying -never having to leave for a ball before darkness has set in.