Opera Divas and Debutantes: Inside the 64th Annual Viennese Opera Ball

Wintertime in Vienna seems filled with white-tie affairs for just about everything: There’s a Coffee Maker’s Ball, a Doctor’s Ball, a Bonbon Ball, a Philharmonic Ball, and an Opera Ball. The latter is one of the most resplendent, as it’s hosted in the storied Vienna State Opera house located just across the street from the Hotel Sacher and its famous torte. The event, with its operatics and old-world grandeur, will be hosted in a couple weeks, but last Friday, New York was treated to a preview at Cipriani’s 42nd Street outpost.

Now in its 64th year, the New York edition of the Opera Ball is said to be the oldest white-tie charity gala in Manhattan; this year it was supporting the Music Therapy Program at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research. Presiding over the glamorous evening was the event’s chair, Jean Shafiroff, who added a bit of elegant glitz in an emerald green Oscar de la Renta ball gown. Ever gracious, Shafiroff and her dedication to the evening meant she opened up her famous wardrobe to Silvia Frieser, president of the ball, lending out a red gown for the occasion. (“It fit her perfectly and we didn’t even need to alter it!” Shafiroff said.) The event’s chair would also help a Met Opera soprano, Nadine Sierra, get dressed, sourcing her a floaty Vera Wang frock that was nearly as lovely as her performance of Romeo et Juliette later in the night.

Guests including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, and Waris Dirie arrived at the venue for a cocktail hour, which was filled with bouquets of red roses perched on neatly pressed table linens. The program was extensive but brimming with entertainment. First up, an introduction by the West Point Cadet Color Guard, followed by the American and Austrian national anthems, and then the presentation of the debutantes and their escorts, who performed an Alles Waltzer and ushered in a tide of romance with their practiced swaying across the dance floor. A four-course Austrian feast was then served along with a series of opera performances from a few of the world’s most famous singers—Lucas Meachem, Rihab Chaieb, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nadine Sierra, and Javier Camarena sang arias and snippets from The Barber of Seville, Samson et DalilaThis Nearly Was Mine, Romeo et Juliette and La Fille du Régiment, respectively. The performances unfolded like a musical kaleidoscope of some of opera’s greatest hits; many of which opera novices could even recall.