VIENNA, February 17, 2012 (AFP) - The 56th Vienna Opera ball opened late Thursday with a heady mix of culture, glamour and politics, the Austrian capital shaken not stirred as a James Bond mingled with the celebrity guests.
French maestro Georges Pretre, 87, and Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu provided the artistic openers at this year's Opera Ball, the highlight of Vienna's ball season.
"For opera singers Vienna is a sort of Mecca," explained Gheorghiu, who performed in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 at the Vienna State Opera building festooned with at least 50,000 flowers.
She received ovations -- including from the 144 debutante couples all dolled up in full evening wear -- for her interpretations ranging from an aria from Bizet's "Carmen" to "I could have danced all night" from Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady".
Former James Bond star Roger Moore, 84, and Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen were Austrian entrepreneur Richard Lugner's special guests at this year's Opera Ball.
The 79-year-old Lugner makes headlines in Austria every year by inviting celebrities to the ball, the highlight of Vienna's social calendar with tickets starting at 250 euros ($327) and boxes going for as much as 18,500 euros.
His previous guests have included actresses Andie MacDowell and Faye Dunaway, although in recent years, Lugner has favoured starlets and scandal-sheet regulars like party-girl Paris Hilton.
Last year Karima El Mahroug, the teenage Moroccan woman known as "Ruby the Heart-Stealer" who was at the centre of a sex scandal involving former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, was on his arm.
Nielsen, 48, the former wife of action star Sylvester Stallone, appeared in films like "Rocky IV" and "Beverly Hills Cop II" in the 1980s and most recently in the German production of the reality show "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here".
Top model Helena Christensen, 43, also attended the ball.
Sports stars were also drawn to the ball, with former German tennis great Boris Becker and ex-footballing compatriot Lothar Matthaus making their first visits.
"It's a big first for me. A good friend invited me and I couldn't refuse," explained Becker, a Grand Slam winner between 1985 and 1996.
The political world was also in evidence, with much of the Austrian government enjoying a a break from the woes of the eurozone.
President Heinz Fischer invited UN chief Ban Ki-moon after a day of intense talks about the crisis in Syria.