Ok, lets face it – Oslo isn’t the prettiest city in the world. In fact, it is down right ugly. It does have some redeeming features – pretty streets (at certain times of the year), a happy dock (at certain times of the year) and lovely castle grounds (at certain times of the year) but ‘features’ seem to be few and far between. Overall, when looking at the city view, much is to be desired. But that’s ok. (Most) Norwegians know this. And in fact, they take a little pride in their capital city not being a world class looker. I’d call it the ‘fårikål effect’ – it is better the uglier it gets.
There was a lot of fuss over the new Oslo opera house. It was built to reignite ‘important’ and ‘quality’ works and to build the high art performance industry. But the fuss wasn’t so much about the performances the house would have (although there was fear that there wasn’t enough quality around so have lowered their standards to accommodate popular culture) but about the house trying to fit in amongst the other world class opera building icons. The architects, planners, builders and government ‘yes’ men have certainly failed. (The other week I read in the paper that only after two years the expensive white stone imported from China is now cracking and chipping. I don’t know why they didn’t use Norwegian materials that have already been proven against the harsh Nordic climate.)
So the opera house might have hi-tech this and hi-tech that, arty this and arty that, but the building itself and its positioning, has brought down its standard and therefore expectations. The first rule in the value of a building is ‘location, location, location’.
The opera house is on the east side of the city centre at the water front. To get there you have to walk through the derelict area at the bottom end of the city corso where all the druggies hang out. Then you have to walk up (and down) a two story steel tunnel that takes you over a freeway. Coming out you get a view of the opera house – a big white square building, no colour, no life, just sharp lines and for most of the year a grey background. Everyone takes the pilgrimage up to the top roof for the view of the city – a flat skyline, brown, dirty, square buildings, a freeway and the docks with ocean-liners.
Now, a lot of Oslo’s ugliness comes from its environment. Buildings need to be short otherwise they block the sun and collect too much snow on top (the drop down would be a killer!). The green trees sleep in the winter and a lot of buildings have been hit by decades of trends – brown brick, stony cement, apricot paint. What was the opera planning committee thinking when they chose to put a self-made ‘icon’ in such a place? The area itself is too much of a ‘fixer-upper’. It would take decades to rejuvenate that side of Oslo, not to mention billions of kroner.
I’ve visited inside (when a film crew was shooting which cornered the whole place off – a regular visitor hazard in Oslo) but I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing a show as yet. However being an ‘art snob’ my expectations aren’t too high – some of the shows they allowed to get in (like the Norwegian goth band Seigmen) makes me question ‘the quality’. The house employed a Scottish opera director Paul Curran (as Norway doesn’t have anyone good enough itself) to set the standard. Instead he is finding himself having to lug everyone up a steep icy slope. Curran is a prominent international director with a few stars under his belt but in an interview he admitted that Norway has a long way to go to reach a world class professional standard. Half jokingly he said his production team prefers to sit in their ‘hytter’ than create art. My heart jumped! Someone who understood what I was going through! From that moment on I liked him a lot and I look forward to seeing one of his shows one day.
It doesn’t hurt to walk over to the opera house as a detour to somewhere else but you wouldn’t need to spend more than 15mins there. The roof is likely to be closed in Winter as it gets slippery. It is nicer to go in Summer when you can see the sun set in the North – however, there are much better places to be for the long sunny nights.