A night at the Opera Ball

The Prague Post

In a sumptuous setting, a reprise of a proud Prague tradition

Well-appointed men in black ties. Beautiful woman in designer gowns. The gorgeous interior of the State Opera House. And a disco. Yep, the Prague Opera Ball, back after a 13-year hiatus, promises to be truly a night to remember.

“Some people go because they like to dance; some people go for business,” says Friedemann Riehle, a conductor with the Prague Philharmonic and the ball’s organizer. “But, after the first glass of champagne, everyone is relaxed.”

Some people also go to see the glamorous guest stars, and Riehle has some outstanding ones lined up this year. Leading the list is Ivana Trump (pictured on the cover), who attended Riehle’s first Prague Opera Ball in 1992. Other luminaries confirmed at press time include Ian Gillan, lead singer of the heavy metal rock band Deep Purple; celebrity models Tereza Maxová, Alena Seredová, Simona Krainová and Pavlína Nemcová; fashion designer Osmany Rodriguez Laffita; Czech crooner Karel Gott; Slovak actor Juraj Kukura; and Prague Lord Mayor Pavel Bém.

Balls in Prague may not be as famous as their counterparts in, say, Vienna, but they do have a proud history. Riehle says these traditional dance events date back to the 18th century, with political events creating significant gaps. In the early 20th century, a number of balls were held in the New German Theater, the first incarnation of the State Opera House. Those were halted in the 1930s. The tradition was resurrected in 1948 for just one year, and then not revived again until Riehle did it in 1992.

“I was studying conducting in Vienna and helping to organize balls there,” he explains. “A friend suggested I do one in Germany, and I decided to contact Prague as well to see if they would be interested.”

Riehle was welcomed with open arms by the State Opera management, and the Opera Ball resumed annually through 1995. Then, with a change in management, it was scotched again. Riehle, however, wasn’t about to give up.

“People kept asking, ‘Why don’t you do it again?’ ” he says. “I finally contacted the opera house management and they agreed.”

So what makes an opera ball different from your typical ball?

“An opera ball can take place only once a year,” Riehle explains. “All the chairs have to be removed; people will dance in the middle of the house. The theater will be closed for four days prior, and afterward they have to move the chairs back in again.”

Along with waltzing in the middle of the stunning neo-Rococo hall, ball-goers will also have an opportunity to watch a pre-dance performance from the boxes. The evening begins with a performance by the State Opera orchestra and ballet. This will be followed by three arias from Romanian soprano Anda Louise Bogza. Next comes Ceská beseda, a traditional dance performed by 24 young people that Riehle says was once used to open balls and other occasions, but isn’t seen so much anymore.

“After that, everyone is invited to dance until 4 a.m.,” he says.

Two orchestras will be supplying the tunes: Big Band Vladislav Brož, playing everything from Glenn Miller to salsa, and the Prague Opera Ball Orchestra, an ad hoc collection of local orchestra musicians playing classical waltzes. After midnight, DJ Martin Hrdinka will be hosting a disco in the foyer.

A raffle will be held to support the Tereza Maxová Foundation for Homeless Children. Tickets are an extravagant 1,000 Kč each, but the first prize is pretty extravagant, too: a Mini Cooper.

Only about 600 tickets will be sold for the Opera Ball, so if you want to experience this renewed tradition, you had best get on the ball, so to speak. As far as Riehle is concerned, the venue itself is worth the price of admission.

“It’s a wonderful opera house that you can’t find in other European cities, a real jewel,” he says, noting that it nonetheless gets limited use. “The most beautiful venue in Prague stops at 10 p.m., and people go to nightclubs.”

Not this night – it’s safe to say they’ll be sticking around a bit longer.