VIENNA (AFP) — Football received a major makeover Thursday at Vienna's Opera Ball, which upped its glamour factor further this year with a long red carpet and a desperate housewife as a last-minute guest.
The glitzy event, held for the 52nd time, is the highlight of the Viennese social calendar with celebrities, politicians and common mortals donning their very best finery, medals and honours and waltzing until the wee hours of the morning.
With the European football championships in Austria and Switzerland four months away, the beautiful game was the guest of honour at this year's ball.
Dancers and students of the Vienna Opera ballet opened the show with a "footballet" simulating goals, penalties, yellow cards and even an injury on a fake pitch, while footballs made from fragrant pink roses decorated the balconies in the sumptuous Opera house.
The European championship trophy was also briefly displayed in the main loge while football greats, including the Kaiser himself Franz Beckenbauer and the manager of reigning European champions Greece Otto Rehhagel, looked on, having traded their kit for a tailcoat and white bowtie.
The football theme faced tough competition however from US burlesque performer and ex-wife of shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, Dita von Teese -- a guest of local socialite Richard Lugner -- who so captivated photographers that she was harassed as far as the ladies' room.
Actress Teri Hatcher, from the popular US series "Desperate Housewives," threatened to take some of the media attention away after it became known Thursday that she would attend the ball as a guest of Austrian firm Superfund.
Hatcher, who came with her young daughter, was kept well away from the media however, only leaving her loge to take a turn or two about the dancefloor.
Other prominent guests included human rights activist and ex-wife of the Rolling Stones' lead singer, Bianca Jagger, European Central Bank director Jean-Claude Trichet, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Russian-born soprano Anna Netrebko, Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa and Oscar-winning Austrian actor Maximilian Schell.
Vice-Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer, who was present alongside President Heinz Fischer and Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and most cabinet ministers, jokingly complained halfway through the evening that he hadn't been able to dance yet as he had spent all his time meeting important guests.
"And I wanted to meet them... but the whole point of a ball is to dance, isn't it?" he told AFP.
Bianca Jagger was equally eager to hit the dancefloor: "I haven't danced yet... but I hope to."
But Austria football assistant manager Andreas Herzog was less keen on waltzing, despite playing a small part in the opening ballet.
"It's probably easier to dance on the pitch with a ball than here with so many people," he told AFP.
Following the "footballet" and a performance by star tenor Jose Carreras, some 200 debutantes and their partners -- including five Malaysian couples selected from a first Vienna ball held last year in Kuala Lumpur -- took to the floor before calling the other guests to join them with the magic words "Alles Walzer!"
There was more than just the waltz however: various lounges and rooms from the opera house's basement to its top floors catered to all tastes with a Cuban-Latino band, a typical Austrian wine cellar, a disco, a casino, a "pink bar" with giant mechanical fans hanging from the ceiling to cool down exhausted dancers and, for the first time in years, two smoking lounges.
First-time organiser Desiree Treichl-Strugkh also installed a long red carpet leading up to the Opera house to imbue a little more glamour into the proceedings and avoid the arrivals' crush from the previous years.
The Opera Ball is a notoriously expensive affair: a single ticket costs 230 euros (338 dollars), a loge 17,000 euros and a glass of champagne 30 euros.
Thursday's event was also under tight security, with 700 police officers on standby.
Some 5,500 guests attended this year's Opera Ball, which was broadcast live on Austrian television ORF. The event brought in 1.1 million euros in revenue last year and organisers expect the same this year.
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