Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Opera Ball and Hotel Imperial

Executive summary by Darmansjah

The Vienna Opera Ball (Wiener Opernball in German) is an annual Austrian society event which takes place in the building of the Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria (Wien, Österreich) on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday (a religious holiday). Together with the New Year Concert, the Opera Ball is one of the highlights of the Viennese carnival season. The dress code is evening dress: white tie and tails for men; usually floor-length gowns for women.

Each year, almost overnight, the auditorium of the Vienna State Opera is turned into a large ballroom. On the eve of the event, the rows of seats are removed from the stalls, and a new floor, level with the stage, is built.
Vienna Opera Ball, Poster

In a joint venture, ORF and BR broadcast live from the ball for several hours each year.

The Opera Ball was first held in 1935, but was suspended during World War II. It was revived after the war; it has been held annually ever since, with the exception of 1991, when it was cancelled due to the Persian Gulf War. Since 2008, Desirée Treichl-Stürgkh has been the chairman (supervising organizer) of the Vienna Opera Ball.

In recent years, the Opernballdemo, a left-wing demonstration along the Ringstraße against the kind of capitalism represented by, as the protesters see it, many of the well-to-do guests at the Opera Ball, has regularly taken place on the same night. There have been occasional outbreaks of violence.

In 1995 Austrian writer Josef Haslinger published a novel entitled Opernball in which thousands of people are killed in a Neo-Nazi terrorist attack taking place during that society event. The novel was the basis of a 1998 made-for-TV movie by Urs Egger with the same title.

The only ball officially associated with the Vienna Opera Ball is the Dubai Opera Ball. A similar ball takes place in New York City and another in Budapest, but they are not affiliated with the Vienna Opera Ball.

The Hotel Imperial façade is Italian Neo-Renaissance. The top of the building contains a stone balustrade that frames allegorical animals from the Württemberg coat of arms. The main entrance portal contains four statues that are also symbolic. The original portal was wide enough for a two-horse-drawn carriage.

The hotel's interior furnishings highlight the nineteenth century Viennese elegance with ornate marble, hand-carved statues, and massive crystal chandeliers. In the lobby, the Royal Staircase leads up to suites and rooms that are also illuminated by magnificent chandeliers hanging from the high stucco ceilings. The hotel's private balconies offer views of the Altstadt skyline.

The building was designed by architect Arnold Zenetti and built under the direction of Heinrich Adam in 1863. Initially, it was planned as the city palace (Stadtpalais) and residence of Duke Philipp of Württemberg (1838-1917) and his spouse Duchess Marie Therese (1845-1927), née Archduchess of Austria; its original name was Palais Württemberg.The Duke and the Duchess, however, did not enjoy their new home for long. After moved there in 1866, they sold it five years later. For the Universal Exhibition it was converted into a hotel in 1873.In 1928, two stories were added. But the original architecture is still very much in evidence and is an integral part of the luxurious atmosphere.

Over the years, the Hotel Imperial has had numerous famous guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, Charlie Chaplin, and Brangelina. Dignitaries and royalty from around the world stayed at the Imperial. It has had some infamous guests as well. Adolf Hitler, who worked at the hotel as a day laborer during his youthful period as a virtual tramp in Vienna, returned as an honored guest following the 1938 Anschluss. Also, Benito Mussolini stayed at the hotel during World War II but was shepherded through the back door on September 13, 1943, following his spectacular rescue by German paratroopers in Unternehmen Eiche (Operation Oak).

The Imperial was acquired by Compagnia Italiana Grandi Alberghi (CIGA) after Prince Karim Aga Khan acquired the company in 1985 and began expanding its presence—which was purely Italian up to that time—into Spain and Austria. In 1994, the Starwood Hotels and Resorts took over CIGA and transformed it into its brand, The Luxury Collection, an assemblage of historic and venerable hotels in Europe that includes the Imperial.

The Imperial Hotel was partly owned before the war by a Jew, Samuel Schallinger, who was forced to sell in 1938 and died in 1942 at the Theresienstadt camp near Prague.

Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish Austrian survivor of the Nazi death camps who dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust, celebrated his 90th birthday at the Imperial Hotel in June 2007 with a fabulous Kosher dinner party. “Look, even the chandeliers are shaking,” said Wiesenthal at the dinner. “Hitler is gone. The Nazis are no more. But we are still here, singing and dancing.”

Today, The Imperial is, perhaps, Vienna's most exclusive five-star hotel. Guests of state typically stay at the hotel, such as the Emperor and Empress of Japan on their visit in 2002.

A speciality of the house is the Imperial Tart or Imperial Torte as its called, which is a chocolate truffle, supposedly based on a secret recipe that is said to have been created by an apprentice cook who fashioned it when Emperor Franz Joseph opened the Hotel in 1873. The confection comes in either a plain pinewood box or a cardboard box (for shipments), each containing a single torte or group of small tortes. Tortes vary in size, from ones that are the size of an individually wrapped candy to others that are the size of a small cake (approximately six inches or fifteen centimeters). A complementary torte box is provided to each guest room and additional boxes can be ordered from the hotel for shipment. Nowadays, torte boxes are sold alongside other Imperial products, such as teas leaves and coffee beans (labelled "Imperial Teas and Coffee") and other varieties of chocolate confections. The Imperial ships its products worldwide, as the chocolates maintain freshness for two months.

No comments:

Post a Comment