Do you know how sometimes you get very excited about seeing a particular landmark when you travel, you read up on it, you hear about it from other people and keep going over the same parts in your city guide (yes, I like to have a book with me), but then you arrive there and your excitement is not only confirmed, but immediately transcended? That was what it was like for me with the Oslo Opera.
There are so many things known about Norway’s largest music and performing arts institution to make it intensely interesting. We walked from the Munchmuseet – it takes about 20 minutes (17 at a brisk pace and without stopping to briefly get your bearings with the aid of Google Maps – darn, it’s cool to watch that arrow move along with you). The sunshine was as brilliant as ever, and en route we walked right in to the Barcode District in Bjørvika, Oslo’s new financial and business area.
A tall bridge spanned across the distance, with a massive construction site and train tracks underneath, as literally bars of buildings rose from the ground, glas windows reflecting the blue sky twinkling among differently coloured concrete. These current urban planning projects may be getting their share of controversy, but I found the architectural view mesmerizing.
We hurried on, getting increasingly excited as the Opera came in to view. A quick dash along the side, as beyond us lay another enormous building site, and a quiet hope that we would indeed arrive at the main entrance. We did, and as I turned the corner, everything I had read or thought about the Operahuset was briefly wiped from my mind when I saw this.
It was a very clear, sunny day, made for showing off the Opera to its full advantage. But even so, nothing can take away the impression that this is both a building and a ship, seamlessly transitioning from one to the other as the marble roof diagonally meets the water on one side. White, blue, grey, marble, glass, stone – a bedazzling mix.
We arrived with 5 minutes to spare and I asked at the ticket office where to go, my German sensibilities forcibly colouring my aura. The clink of utensils on plates mingled with relaxed chatting in the café nearby and light flooded the spacious entrance hall.
Our charming and knowledgable guide won me over with his repeated “Come,” as we delved further and further backstage. Now, I have a romanticized view of operas and their world since I a) saw Phantom of the Opera with Emmy Rossum; b) ended up remembering the soundtrack by heart; c) interned at the press department of the Hamburg Ballet and was fortunate enough to go backstage at the local opera theater.
We went up to the higher rows of the largest stage, and we were very high up indeed. Darker wood dominated the space big enough for more than 1,300 people. Rows were mostly built in circular lines, making you think yet again of water and waves. Various detailed acoustic considertations were taken in to account when building, hence the different patterns on the velvet covering of each seat. Each seat back also has a small screen on it, where translations are displayed in 8 languages! Most progressive opera house in the world, or what?
I want to go see a performance there so badly now.
Masses and masses of complicated looking equipment loomed around us backstage. We heard singing, saw ballet dancers pass as we walked through the dance rehearsal area, and I happily recognized a Norwegian poster for Swan Lake. Most places where people worked and rehearsed seemed to have a lovely view, though all female members of the ensemble get dressing rooms looking out on the water. “Have to be nice to the ladies”, our guide said. Some 4,000 costumes are made for productions and the sewing area looked large, intimidating and incredibly efficient.
After the 50-minute tour ended, I had many questions, of which I got to ask two, but ours was not the only tour scheduled. Later I once again joyfully buried my nose in my guidebook again.
What is repeated about the Oslo Opera – it was built to touch, to feel, to experience – is true. That accessibility and space is immediate. Your experience of it doesn’t start with a purchased ticket for a performance – it starts before that. You can walk on the Opera, around it, sit in the sun, picnic on the roof and marvel at the incredible way modern Oslo architecture blends in with the local landscape.
Do You Remember, one of my favourite songs by Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun, performed on the roof of the Oslo Operahuset in 2012.