If there is one that that marks the annual Viennese Opera Ball in New York, its that it is classic. Where else can New Yorkers wear ball gowns and white tie dress code?
This year’s event was held at The Plaza New York on May 12, with performances by world-renowned opera stars, including Stephen Costello, a leading performer at the Metropolitan Opera, alongside Nathalie Peña Comas, and Joyce El-Khoury, who wore a stunning black and gold gown by Lebanese designer, Edward Arsouni.
The ball was guest chaired by New York philanthropist Jean Shafiroff alongside Denise Rich, who were both being co-honored to benefit Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research.
The night was inspired by Carmen, the dramatic opera by French composer Georges Bizet. Shafiroff wore a deep red couture gown designed by Malan Breton, which “kept with the theme of Carmen for the night—the opera,” she said.
“The honor was granted for the volunteer leadership work I have done for the Viennese opera ball over the years, and it was my honor to do this work,” she said.
The event’s organizer Silvia Frieser says it’s one of the most glamorous events of the year. “The Viennese Opera Ball is very important for the Austrian community and for our friends in the US, it’s been going for 67 years, so it’s an important part of New York,” she said.
“We went with the theme of Carmen because we love the music, passion and energy, it’s a beautiful opera with gorgeous arias, everyone associates red with it.”
For the ball, local Austrian designers dress some of the VIP guests. “From a fashion perspective, we want to use the ball as a platform for Austrian designers to present themselves,” adds Frieser.
That’s not to say that everyone was wearing red, but they were wearing romantic-inspired feather dresses, enormous gowns, and glittery pieces. Maribel Lieberman, a New York style icon, and founderof Mariebelle New York, wore a lavender skirt and blouse by Maggie Norris couture, with a pastel headband by Emily London.
Latin pop singer Sasha Prendes wore a sparkling Jovani silver gown, while Sylvia Hemingway wore a gown by Oscar de la Renta.
The style at this gala is a vintage throwback to an era where traditional Dior dresses and 1950s classic style dominated high society galas. In fact, this gala is potentially the only time New Yorkers could wear ball gowns at this level, at this time of year, says Marilyn Kirschner, a fashion editor and founder of The Look Online.
“The dress code, even saying white tie and ball gowns, is similar to the Central Park Conservancy Hat Luncheon a few weeks ago—it exists in its own bubble, it has nothing to do with the ins and outs of fashion,” said Kirschner. “It’s just an excuse to get dressed up in an Old-World way, and that’s actually very nice.”
The gowns tied into the theme of Carmen, which the gala’s artistic director Daniel Serafin explains “is an opera of love, of intrigue and of beauty, we are celebrating a night of beauty here in New York,” he said. “Carmen has so much emotion and balls are filled with emotion.”
Luisa Diaz, the founder of the Luisa Diaz Foundation and the MAG Gala, wore a feather blue dress by Jovani. “This is my first time attending the Viennese Opera Ball, and I love fashion,” she said. “Everyone is—wow—in their peak mode, and I see this gala truly as an opportunity for us ladies to dress up in a way where we don’t usually have an opportunity to do as much as we want to,” she said.
While it might feel like an old school tradition, social media has made balls popular again, as they tap into each person's own inner prince or princess.
“I think this old school, high fashion way of dressing up to the nines in ball gowns and white tie is coming back. People want to go out, be excited and experience galas,” adds Diaz.
This annual white tie charity gala honors the friendship between America and Austria. It was first founded in 1954 by a group of Austrian immigrants in New York who wanted to pay tribute to their hometown of Vienna and their new home of New York. This year’s debutantes included Sofie Mahlkvist, Reesa Artz, Clara Burtscher, Rachel Borreta, Mei Colby, Thara Eisingerich, Deborah Engelberg, and others.
Fashion designers like Carolin Sinemus and Nicole Miller were in attendance, too.
This ball might be big for New York, but it’s nothing new in Vienna, a city which hosts roughly 300 balls every year. So, dressing up in Old World fashion is nothing new in Europe, of course. But this ball does mirror the ball culture in the Austrian capital.
“I think one of the highlights of the evening is that guests have a chance to get very dressed up in ball gowns and white ties,” said Shafiroff. “New Yorkers love fashion on every level.”