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Vienna Opera Ball in New York

By Andrea Simmons

There are not many posh society events where one finds oneself interrupted in the middle of an interview by a horse, but that's exactly what I found at the 58th Annnual Viennese Opera Ball to Benefit Carnegie Hall, held in New York this past Friday at the legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

I had made my way through many elegant rooms to the breathtaking Silver Corridor, a hallway surrounded by mirrors, providing perfect viewing for a scene that looked like nothing short of a fairy tale.

As ladies in long ball gowns floated down the ornate passageways along with gentlemen in tails, white gloves and decorations, it was easy to believe that somehow one had wandered back in time to imperial Vienna...with exception to the occasional cell phone jingle.

Hans Peter Manz, Austrian Ambassador to the US looks forward to the Ball each year, for "the spirit of the people participating and coming together and the unique mixture of festivities.  It’s evocative of the past, and I’m pleased to see tradition going on with so many young people in attendance!"

The Counsul General of Austria, Ernst-Peter Brezovszky, heartily agreed, saying that he was moved by the "young spirit" prevalent throughout the celebration.  He added with a smile, that the festivities were also quite "Hilarious!"  A bit puzzled by this particular choice of wording, I was soon to learn that the joke was on me:  Spotting Executive Committee Chairman, Dieter Beintrexler, I was eager to speak to him regarding his thoughts on the evening.  And, in a hilarious fashion, the next thing I knew, the clip-clopping of hooves could be heard and we were separated by a horse and his escorts, alerting the guests that the program was about to begin!  I must say, this was a journalistic first!

Upon arrival in the Grand Ballroom, guests were dazzled by exquisite bouquets of large white roses with a smattering of golden leaves, the vases dripping with several glittering strands of crystal-like droplets.

All were treated to a seemingly endless procession of Austrian cuisine throughout the program, which was a lively mix of a Debutante Presentation, including the reigning Miss Teen USA, Logan West; a special performance by principal dancers from the Vienna State Ballet; Marionettes; the Viennese Waltz, and the annual guest favorite, the Midnight Quadrille.

One of the Ball’s Co-Hosts, American operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes, along with his wife, soprano Maria Zouves, delighted in seeing one of their students, Metropolitan Opera soprano, Amy Shoremount-Obra lend her glorious voice to the evening’s lively performance of the opera, Die Feuersbrunst.

Together Milnes and Zouves founded VOICExperience, a non-profit organization that provides singers with performance and study opportunities as they pursue their careers.

Ms. Milnes had a contagious enthusiasm, her eyes lighting up as she spoke of the program.  The couple agreed that, since founding their organization, witnessing their students, such as Ms. Shoremount-Obra, go on to incredible opportunities such as this, is the most rewarding aspect of their efforts.

It was a first time visit to the New York Viennese Opera Ball for Austrians Nina Krasser and Petra Schinnerl.  Both young ladies delighted in the "variety" that the New York Ball had to offer, as opposed to the more traditional Balls based in Vienna.  Ms. Schinnerl added, "I find the New York Ball much more entertaining with the opera in the middle and just so many different things going on!"

In contrast, many of the Americans present spoke of being captivated by the evening’s spirit of tradition and elegance of an age gone by, and it wasn’t just the guests that were in awe of the festivities.  Diane Edward, a Waldorf-Astoria hospitality staff member, was unable to contain her excitement: "Everyone looks so beautiful!  It's just like being in a movie...it really is!" She gushed.  "I don't even feel like I'm working!"
The evening brought back many fond memories for many of its participants.  Peter Duchin conducted the Ball’s 22-piece Orchestra and, after attempting to hoist me onstage, ball gown and all (he did not succeed!), he shared a favorite memory during his travels to Vienna, when he and his ex-wife managed to scale a mountain near Salzburg all the way to the top, only to discover the most glorious field of wildflowers that he described as "most breathtaking!"

Evening Co-Host,Tony Dovolani, of ABC-TV’s Dancing with the Stars reminisced about his childhood visits to Austria.  "It was just so beautiful.  As a child, going there - everything looked like a fairytale to me!  The people were so kind and I will never forget their smiles."

And for some guests, this was their first taste of Austrian culture.  Miss Teen USA and Debutante, Logan West shared that she had yet to visit Austria, but after this experience she declared, "I’m going to text my mom and ask for a vacation!"  She will have the proper waltzing skills to boot, as she and her fellow debutantes had been trained by Choreographer and Artistic Director of the Vienna City Ballet, Heinz Heidenreich in "only four days" of long and intensive instruction.

Time seemed to stand still as guests glided about the dance floor and, as the Grand Ballroom’s participants began to fade, the festivities were anything but over.  Patrons flocked to the Tanz Bar, a collection of various after parties  throughout the building – from a DJ and Jazz Band accompanied by a Buffet Supper in the Astor Salon and Jade Room, to the Basildon Room, which was transformed into a Vienna Coffee House.

As the sun began to rise, it almost seemed shocking to arrive outside and be greeted by the rush of taxis on Park Avenue, with not one carriage in sight.  Alas, all good things must come to an end.

And perhaps the next time around, your most humble journalist will bring a carrot and a lump of sugar to ensure that her interviews carry on with minimal interruptions!

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