Some Enchanted Evening
Thousands of white-tied and elegant-gowned waltzers attend more than 300 formal balls with different themes that Vienna throws during the winter Fasching or carnival season. But the belle of all the balls is the legendary Opera Ball. It is held in the Baroque Vienna State Opera House, minus the opera and its seats, which are removed by a beehive of workers who transform the ornate Staatsoper into a splendid, cavernous ballroom overnight.
The Opernball opens with the grand entry of 200 graceful young debutantes (the daughters of rich and titled Austrian families), joined by 5,000 guests who come from all echelons of Viennese society and around the world to partake in the fairytale event first established by the Emperor Franz Josef in 1877. The dance floor becomes a kaleidoscope of color as dancers whirl to the sprightly strains of the Viennese waltz.
When three-quarter time winds down at 5 A.M., turn to the next page of the fairy tale by retiring to your room at the Hotel Imperial, Vienna’s trophy hotel. Built in 1867 in the Renaissance style by Emperor Franz Josef for his niece and her husband, the Duke of Wurttemberg, it was used to house the duke’s most distinguished guests and is still the official hotel for state visitors, just as when former guest Richard Wagner booked seven rooms and composed day and night.
Many things remain unchanged, give or take a few multimillion-dollar renovations: priceless furnishings, marble floors, gilded balustrades, ceiling frescoes, glittering chandeliers. Guests will naturally feel as if they’re being treated like Queen Elizabeth who uttered before leaving that it was “the most beautiful hotel we have ever stayed in.”