Norway opens first opera house, after 127 years of waiting

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The Independent Online

They say it isn't over until the fat lady sings. And after more than a century of waiting for Oslo, she finally has.

This weekend Norway threw open the doors of its first ever opera house, a shimmering white marble building rising up from the waters of the capital's fjord, close to where the Vikings founded the original city 1,000 years ago.

Before this stunning addition to the capital's skyline, Norwegian opera buffs and ballet aficionados had to cram into old downtown theatres or ugly 1930s incarnations tucked away in shopping malls. Now they can enjoy the delights of the divas and ballerinas at a permanent home on the fjord at Bjoervika, which is being hailed as one of the most important buildings to be erected in Norway since Trondheim got its Nidaros cathedral at the start of the 14th century.

"The opera house rises as a ... monumental landmark," King Harald of Norway declared at the gala opening on Saturday night. "This house for many generations to come will be filled with music, dance and song." The cherished diva Wenche Foss made a sweeping entry, trilling her excitement at the new auditorium, whose stage is 16 metres below sea level. "This is huge! Huge!" the 90-year-old Norwegian exclaimed. "I never thought I'd experience this."

Indeed, Norway's national opera house has been a long time coming. It is 127 years since an Oslo newspaper reported that one was to be built in the capital.

Hopes rallied briefly in 1916 after Oslo residents pooled enough money to buy a vacant lot, assuming that the city authorities would then foot the bill for constructing the building, but the years passed in fruitless committee meetings and debates. Finally, the Norwegian parliament signed off on a site and a £214m budget in 1999, that would spiral to £426m before completion.

The most striking feature of the opera house, designed by the Oslo-based architects Snoehetta, is its so-called "fifth wall" – the flat sloping roof, covered with 36,000 marble pieces, on which visitors can enjoy a stroll and take in views of the water and the city.

Admirers say the opera house's white marble and glass conjure up the country's icebergs and vast wintry regions. Some of the building's energy is supplied via a facade, where the country's biggest area of solar panels are mounted. Inside, wood lines the walls, crafted by local boat builders.

The main auditorium seats more than 1,300 people, who will be treated to Gershwin's Porgy & Bess when the opera's first season opens in August. However, there have been some complaints, souring the otherwise celebratory reviews, that conditions are too cramped. After measuring the leg room in the new theatre, Norwegian daily Aftenposten noted it was less than on most airlines. "[This] prompted one reader to ask if this is what it means to suffer for art."

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