Oslo has never been known as one of Europe’s operatic centers, but that may soon change. Den Norske Opera & Ballet—Norway’s biggest producer of opera, dance, and symphony concerts—has a brand-new, world-class home. Designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta (whose résumé includes Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina), the $840 million building was inaugurated on April 12 with a gala performance of music and dance.
The opera house has 1,100 rooms (rehearsal and production facilities, as well as offices), but bigger-is-better does not seem to have been Snøhetta’s intention. The horseshoe-shaped main auditorium is wonderfully human in scale, seating just 1,369 listeners (La Scala holds 2,030).
The interior features a swooping, minimalist design, paneled throughout in oak; stage and theater technology are state-of-the-art. On the outside, a slanted roof, clad in white Carrara marble, rises from the edge of the Oslo Fjord up to the top of the theater, ingeniously doubling as a generous plaza.
If, operatically speaking, Oslo has not kept pace with Helsinki and Stockholm, that’s partly because Norwegian singers have pursued their careers abroad. Now local prospects look bright: the company has hired Glasgow-born Paul Curran, the maverick stage director, as its general manager. Den Norske plans an ambitious 300 performances each year, including the premiere of Around the World in Eighty Days in 2009—promising new voices for the song of Norway.