Political leaders and showbiz stars had only kind words about last night’s (Thurs) Opera Ball.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer said the event had nothing to do with the corruption scandals former Austrian government ministers, businesspeople and lobbyists are accused of being involved in. A special parliamentary commission headed by Gabriela Moser of the Green Party is currently investigating whether there is any substance to the various allegations. State prosecutors have also been examining a large number of reported cases of abuse of office and embezzlement for months.
Asked whether the Viennese State Opera ball was a popular gathering place of shady networkers and corrupt lawmakers, Fischer told radio station Ö1 that there was no direct connection between the event and the occurrences “which infuriate us all”. The former Social Democratic (SPÖ) science minister added that illicit deals could be made at any event including Vienna’s other glamorous balls.
Newspapers point out today that none of the personalities who are accused of being involved in the corruption cartel turned up for this year’s Opera Ball – in contrast to previous editions. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), praised the ball as a “celebration of Austrian music culture”. Ban attended the event on invitation of Fischer. The former ambassador of South Korea in Vienna followed all the action on the dance floor from the presidential box.
The UN secretary-general was in the Austrian capital to speak at a conference organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). French Foreign and European Affairs Minister Alain Juppe and his Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger of the People’s Party (ÖVP), attended the summit at Hofburg Palace as well. Juppe tried to use the opportunity and convince the Russian delegation of a military intervention in Syria.
Ban was not the only politician to link pleasure with politics. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and several German politicians attended the 56th State Opera Ball as well. Milanovic discussed his country’s economic challenges with Austrian SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann before attending the ball together. German Christian Social Union (CSU) Infrastructure Minister Peter Ramsauer accepted the invitation of Austrian SPÖ Traffic Minister Doris Bures.
State Opera director Dominique Meyer, Austrian Economy Chamber (WKO) President Christoph Leitl, FlyNiki founder Niki Lauda, tennis legend Boris Becker and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Roger Moore were among the over 5,000 guests of the sold-out event as well. Moore – who starred in seven “James Bond” films – described himself as a “viewer” when being asked by Austrian broadcaster ORF whether he planned to take to the floor.
Moore came to Vienna on the initiative of Richard Lugner. The Lugner City boss was also accompanied by Danish actress and model Brigitte Nielsen. The ex-wife of “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone said: “My heart is about to explode. I am totally overwhelmed by everything. The Opera Ball is wonderful. It’s lots of fun.”
Lugner experienced enormous difficulties with his personal star guests of the night in recent years. Model Paris Hilton tried in vain to flee from the paparazzi on her way to his box four years ago. Actress Nicollette Sheridan, who accompanied the 79-year-old entrepreneur in 2009, also looks back on a rather stressful night at the opera. “Mean Girls” star Lindsay Lohan was set to attend the ball with Lugner two years ago but had to call off her visit to Austria after missing her flight.
Lugner said already ahead of yesterday’s event that Nielsen “is the nicest Opera Ball guest I have ever had”. He pointed out that the star of the most recent edition of RTL’s “Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hier raus!” (I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!) was “not complicated at all”.