Romance is both in the air and on the dance floor

The Prague Post

Prague Opera Ball returns with glitzy list of international guests

Imagine you are Cinderella, without the nasty family. Picture beautiful people dressed to the nines, flowing champagne and a stunning venue. You won’t need a fairy godmother to attend one of the most fashionable events in Prague. The Prague Opera Ball is Feb. 6, and there may be no better way to share some pre-Valentine’s Day love.

“The opera house is fascinating. Balls can’t be done in every opera house, but here they can,” said Friedemann Riehle, a conductor with the Prague Philharmonic and the ball’s organizer. An opera ball is one that can only be held once a year due to the intensive preparation required to transform an opera house into a dance hall. Opera balls date back to 18th-century France and have a checkered history in Prague. Some were held before World War II, one in 1948 and then none until Riehle, with the help of Ivana Trump, got the ball rolling again in 1992. The event reoccurred for a couple of years and then took another hiatus until the pestering of friends and past attendees finally convinced Riehle to do it again.

Between 700 and 800 guests attended last year, and Riehle says there were some naysayers pre-event.

“People weren’t confident it would work – happen, technically speaking – and said they’d wait till next year [to attend],” he said. “The opera house technical director spends about five days nonstop setting up and taking down [the ballroom setting].”

Riehle says, based on what he experienced last year, things have definitely changed since the 1990s.

“I was very surprised how the ladies dressed so beautifully last year. In the ’90s, it was different; some had homemade dresses, but, in 2009, it was designer gowns,” he said. “Also, in the ’90s, they didn’t stay so late. Last year, 100 to 200 people were still here when the music stopped at 4:30 a.m.”

There was one other surprise that could have been considered a crisis.

“We also ran out of champagne around midnight last year!” Riehle said. But don’t worry; he’s already ordered extra for this year’s party.

So, we’ve got history, fashion and art already taken care of. What more could a romantic evening call for?

Music and dancing, of course. This year, the ball will be opened by the Prague Philharmonic, and then the Prague Opera Ball Orchestra will take over playing waltzing tunes. As the evening goes on, the music kicks up a notch with a salsa band and, starting at 1 a.m., a disco. Riehle says not everyone knows how to polka or waltz, so the disco was added.

“Some people think ‘I can’t dance; it’s not for me,’ but that’s not the point,” he said. “I know people who’ve been at all the balls so far and never danced, or maybe only at the disco.”

You can purchase a ticket with or without food, and with or without a table. For people more interested in the fashion and music rather than dancing, Riehle recommends simply buying a table reservation, perhaps in one of the Opera House’s boxes, and enjoying the view. Food will be mainly cold plates (the Opera House isn’t designed to prepare hot food) including Prague ham, Viennese sausage and sushi. The city of Vienna will also be supplying Viennese wine. The guest list will be just as international and will include French actress Michéle Mercier, Cuban fashion designer Osmany Laffita, the mayor of Vienna, the Austrian ambassador to the Czech Republic and his Czech counterpart, as well as numerous Czech politicians, models and other jet-setters. Riehle says they’ve already sold tickets to people from the United Kingdom, the United States, Austria, Germany and France.

Much like last year, there will be a raffle. Tickets are 500 Kc ($27), and the prizes include a weekend in Vienna and art. Proceeds go to the Red Cross to help with earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.

“We don’t have such beautiful opera houses everywhere – in my opinion, nowhere else – and it’s prepared for a ball,” Riehle said. “Even if you don’t dance, it’s lively. You’ll meet new people, and everyone [will be] in a good mood because [of] the champagne. And all men look better in a tux.”