Who would have thought a dance as elegant and romantic as the Viennese Waltz was once considered risqué during its early days. Austria has embraced this popular dance for over 100 years along with its countless extravagant balls (just over 500 to be exact!). If you just so happen to be in Vienna, and you manage to get a ticket, these cultural events are definitely worth attending.
“The City of Dreams” has been dubbed as the waltz capital of the world and what better way to dive even deeper into its history, fashion and cultural influence than by chatting with someone who is just as enthusiastic as I am. Soprano Rebecca Nelsen graced the stage this past January singing Strauss favourites for the annual production Salute to Vienna – a North American homage to the famous Neujahrskonzert. Her performances have been praised all over the world and I was thrilled when she agreed to work with me once again.
Recent work has taken her to Vienna where she attended the famous Opera Ball and bumped into some really interesting personalities, including Kim Kardashian, as well as photo-bombing the Swarovskis. A light hearted musical spirit, I couldn’t think of a better person than Nelsen to share some of her thoughts on this beautiful era in music (and fashion) history.
MC: What comes to mind when you hear Vienna and Waltz in the same sentence?
RN: Is there anything more Viennese than a Waltz? The lilting tempo, the gentle hesitation, the romance…
There are few things in this world more elegant, more sublime than gliding across the dance floor, an unforgettable melody in your ears, a beautiful gown swishing at your feet, in the arms of a graceful partner. Is it any wonder that the Viennese have an entire season dedicated to the Ball – where Waltzes come out to play? The Vienna Opera Ball, held in the gorgeous Vienna State Opera is the undisputed crown jewel of the Viennese Ball season. In 1773, Emperor Joseph II decided that all citizens, not only the aristocracy, should be able to attend the Balls at the Royal Palace. He introduced the Viennese general public to the waltz, which had previously been reserved for the crème de la crème of European society, and a very Viennese love affair began that is still going strong today. The first official Opera Ball to be held in the State Opera took place in 1935. Since then, it has become the social event of the year in Vienna, a fashion high-point, akin to the Oscars in its level of opulence, and is broadcast on live television throughout Austria and Germany It is a thrilling mix of Hollywood red carpet, fashion gala and fairy tale. (Picture) I had the immense pleasure and privilege of attending this year’s Opera Ball, and it was truly all I had hoped it would be. The gowns were gorgeous, the decoration lush, the music… incredible. (Picture)
MC: How are people celebrating these balls today?
RN: In many ways, the tradition of the Viennese Ball has not changed that drastically. It is a place to see and be seen, a time to marvel at the beauty that is laid out so richly and so lavishly, and, of course a grand occasion to Waltz. Some modifications have, of course been made… modern music is also thrown into the mix, and there are different salons and halls at every ball that offer a more broad palette of musical tastes, from big-band to salsa, to rock, but the waltz remains king.
MC: Whether you are attending or performing, finding and choosing the right is the ultimate fashion decision. Do you agree?
RN: Agreed! One can wear high-street jeans just about anywhere, but a ball-gown demands a suitably elegant occasion to be worn and the Opera Ball a perfect such occasion. This year was actually my first Opera Ball. I have been to other balls before, for example the Kaffeesiederball at the Hofburg in Vienna (the Austrian Emperor’s Winter Palace). But, if you are going to the Vienna Opera Ball, a fantastic dress is a must. I decided to go with the cutting-edge designs of Venezuelan-born and Vienna-resident designer, Marcos Valenzuela-Abril. He is the lead designer for the Vienna-based Fashion House, Tiberius. The dress we chose for me is a Greek-inspired dream in white, incorporating white leather, flowing white silk as well as brass elements to form a silhouette that would make Aphrodite proud. I have known Marcos, who is a fine singer himself, for many years, and I had the immense pleasure of attending his Napolean-inspired runway show, “Conquest”, this past Fall as it took Vienna’s Fashion week by storm. He was my first choice when I found out I was lucky enough to get a ticket to this year’s ball.
Find out more about Rebecca Nelsen by visiting www.rebeccanelsen.eu