DE­SIGN­ING THE HIGH­LIGHT OF BALL SEA­SON

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - MELANGE -

Maria Großbauer, Vi­enna’s youngest-ever Opera Ball di­rec­tor on sug­ar­coated mem­o­ries, the im­por­tance of sto­ry­telling and why debu­tantes should wear their hair up

On the way to meet Maria Großbauer, the new di­rec­tor of the most fa­mous and pres­ti­gious ball in the world, I’m guided through hid­den cor­ri­dors be­tween the back­stage area and pub­lic ac­cess to the loge boxes. A clunky old-fash­ioned key opens the door to the Teesa­lon, a spa­cious sit­ting room with gilded mold­ings, ceil­ing fres­coes and a mir­ror span­ning an en­tire wall.

With Großbauer, it takes only min­utes un­til we’re deep in nos­tal­gic ter­ri­tory. “That’s the em­blem of the Kaiser,” she says, ges­tur­ing to the wall­pa­per. “This part of the opera wasn’t hit by the bomb­ing in WWII.” The Teesa­lon has re­mained com­pletely in­tact and un­spoiled since it opened in 1869, “Even the lamps.”

It’s that at­ten­tion to de­tail that give the ÖVP’S re­cently ap­pointed Spokesper­son for Art and Cul­ture a great un­der­stand­ing of nos­tal­gia.

The opera has long been like a sec­ond home. Her father, Karl Jeitler, played trom­bone with the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic and per­formed at the opera for 38 years. This gives her “a re­ally close con­nec­tion” to the house. She is also mar­ried to the Phil­har­monic’s con­cert master.

But she has al­ways felt a spe­cial at­trac­tion to mu­sic and the opera, studying flute, pi­ano and later sax­o­phone. She would meet her father for a glass of wine af­ter a per­for­mance and talk, telling each other sto­ries. She lights up at the mem­ory.

“So it’s no co­in­ci­dence that I went into ad­ver­tis­ing; I love sto­ries.” In 2017, as the new di­rec­tor of the Opera Ball, she felt it was key to com­mu­ni­cate the drama of the event, and the thrill of be­ing part of a col­lec­tive per­for­mance. “There’s a scene in an opera for ev­ery sit­u­a­tion in life. Whether it’s a wed­ding, a love tri­an­gle, be­trayal, death or jeal­ousy. Opera is full of all that.”

Her sto­ry­telling from the past year’s Opera Ball gar­nered plenty of praise. Ev­ery­thing from the flow­ers to the Da­men­spenden (ladies’ gifts) to the drinks were themed with quotes and char­ac­ters from opera. There was a cock­tail called Liebe­strank (The Elixir of Love, L’elisir d’amore), af­ter an opera by Donizetti. The flow­ers were themed like Mozart’s Magic Flute, the magic for­est with its col­or­ful birds. “It’s the Opera Ball, af­ter all.”

Since the turn of the Mil­len­nium, the rad­i­cal changes in how we com­mu­ni­cate have left us miss­ing some­thing, she says. “The tan­gi­ble – meet­ing peo­ple, look­ing each other in the eye.” Or go­ing to a ball “that lets you de­cel­er­ate a bit. You pre­pare for it, de­cide who to go with, what to wear and where to get it. Will you go to din­ner be­fore­hand? It’s in con­trast to our ev­ery­day life, like a re­treat to an­other time.”

Il­lu­sion is nec­es­sary, of course, for the magic of nos­tal­gia to work, she ad­mits. It’s like re­la­tion­ships, she says. “At some point you only re­mem­ber the good things. Thank good­ness our brains do that!”

Großbauer be­lieves Vi­enna needs a cer­tain amount of nos­tal­gia. “That’s noth­ing to be ashamed of.” While the opera ball may be ex­clu­sive, other balls are not, and ev­ery­one can go for walks in the gar­dens in the Belvedere and dance waltzes all through the city on New Year’s, she says. The nos­tal­gia is im­me­di­ate, be­cause we live in it ev­ery day: The his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture, the cof­fee­houses and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, like the Vi­enna State Opera.

“Some may see that as bor­ing or tired, but I dis­agree. I think it’s won­der­ful and we have to pre­serve it. Vi­enna is con­cen­trated beauty,” she smiles. “Ab­so­lutely.”

In her pri­vate life she is no less nos­tal­gic. She and her sis­ter send old post­cards to each other. But she’s no Lud­dite. If she for­gets a de­tail of a story she’s quick to find the an­swer with the help of her smart­phone. Großbauer’s Bie­der­meier desk, which she re­stored her­self, has a state-of-the-art Mac on it.

“Per­son­ally, nos­tal­gia gives me a feel­ing of se­cu­rity, a base from which to ven­ture into the crazy world we now live in.” And she has al­ready changed a few things about the reg­u­la­tions of the Opera Ball. “I’ve made it oblig­a­tory for the debu­tantes to wear their hair up. The tiara just looks bet­ter when your hair is up.” This year, they will wear a del­i­cate rose and gold sparkling tiara de­signed by Dolce & Gab­bana and adorned with Swarovski crys­tals.

In ad­di­tion to her new role in gov­ern­ment, she’s al­ready hard at work for the next Opera Ball on Fe­bru­ary 8, gen­uinely ex­cited about the months ahead. “Any­one who wants to help can come on over.”

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