We meet the crew working in concert to make the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet sing.
Only the top of the iceberg that is the Oslo Opera House can be captured in a photograph: much of it is subterranean. Designed by architecture firm Snøhetta and completed in 2008, this is the workplace of more than 600 permanent staff members, who keep busy rehearsing Petipa pas de deux, belting out Verdi arias, stitching silk-and-sequin dresses and ensuring that the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet’s 300 or so yearly shows run smoothly. The people milling about the building’s public roof terrace, sun-tanning, taking photos and even (when conditions allow) downhill skiing are also important pieces of the puzzle.
“To an extreme degree, it has helped us to build pride,” says Ingrid Lorentzen, former ballerina and one of the artistic directors who lead the institution’s programme. “We’re a young nation when it comes to culture.” The Norwegian Opera was founded in 1959 and was long housed in a modest theatre in the city centre. But everything changed when Snøhetta was commissioned to design a new building and shipped 36,000 pieces of white marble from Carrara to Oslo’s industrial harbour. Since moving in 16 years ago, the company has grown into a world-class institution renowned for a daring repertoire and inclusive attitude.
By welcoming everyone into the building (and on top of it), Oslo Opera House flipped the idea of what such a stereotypically elitist institution can be. That said, even more thought was put into the interior: the oak-panelled main stage has some of the world’s most advanced acoustics and scenography. “All of the artists we get here think big,” says Lorentzen, noting that their workshops build sets that few theatres can match. “We have huge productions that can’t go anywhere else.”
Asked how it feels to stage shows inside one of Norway’s top tourist attractions, Lorentzen recounts a conversation with Kjetil Taedal Thorsen, co-founder of Snøhetta. “He said that the building is nothing without its content,” she says. “Without the theatre, it would be a monument. Monuments are dead. This is a living house.”