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Why can’t Stockholm have a new opera house like its neighbours?

The Swedes are beating themselves us. Oslo and Copenhagen both got sparkling new opera houses in the last few years, but Stockholm – the Swedish government has decided – will have to make do with a makeover of its present Royal Opera.

At a cost of about $300 million. More here.




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  1. Also Helsinki which is culturally speaking the closest capital to Stockholm has a new opera house…

  2. Lawrence Renes says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    First of all thank you for sharing this news with your readers. I am however slightly puzzled by your interpretation. As Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera I feel that this is a triumph on many levels.

    First of all I think that any government that decides to prioritize the Arts by giving US$ 305 million is to be applauded. They are showing real vision and leadership in a world where orchestras, opera companies, museums and other arts organisations are folding, or are suffering from heavy cuts.

    Second, our General Director Birgitta Svenden and I were pushing for this solution. There is a number of reasons why we did not want a ‘sparkling new opera house’ in the first place. One of the reasons is that we already have one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, located in the best possible location in this wonderful city. Also, there are many countries where politicians build new opera houses which cost an incredible amount of money. After they open there is not enough money and willingness left to provide a proper artistic budget to run those buildings. I applaud the Swedish Minister of Culture Mrs. Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth and her colleagues for not falling into this trap.

    The challenge ahead for us is to spend this money wisely. The Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Opera de Lyon are two examples of opera houses that have showed that investing in expanding and upgrading an existing venue can be very succesful.

    I, together with the around 600 other people that make the Royal Swedish Opera the wonderful company it is, look forward to this challenge of bringing an institution with a centuries-old history into the 21st century.

    With best regards,
    Lawrence Renes

  3. Mike Schachter says:

    It is a beautiful building, and Sweden has a longer history of opera than either Copenhagen or Oslo – Ballo in maschera, for instance?

    • Gustav III of Ballo in Maschera fame built – and was shot in (1792) – the predecessor of the current Royal Opera theatre built on the same site and which was opened in 1898.

  4. Fred Plotkin says:

    I did an article about this a couple of years ago. I visited Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki, interviewing people in the theatres as well as among the public. While people in Helsinki and Copenhagen were proud of their fancy modern opera houses, they also were glad that they saved the Alexander Theatre in Helsinki and the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, even if they are inadequate for most opera productions nowadays. In Oslo, opera was done in a cinema until the new opera house opened, so that was a great step forward. By contrast, the Swedes were proud of their beautiful opera house, much than the one in Copenhagen, even if the acoustics were not ideal. It has by far the best restaurants I know in any opera house. If the Swedes ever build a modern opera house, it must be with the proviso that this old one be kept open and active. One can understand why they are attached to it. If this new funding makes it better acoustically and more allows for more modern technology in productions, that would be a positive development.

  5. The Stockholm Opera is a wonderful place, in an unbeatable location, and as Fred says, it surely has some of the best restaurants of any opera house in Europe. And the sense of tradition is unmissable. This is where Korngold’s “Die Kathrin” was premiered. You can sit in Bjussi Bjorling’s regular chair in the bar, order up an akavit, and breathe the same atmosphere that Birgit Nilsson or Hugo Alfven would have known. There’s more to a great performance venue than bricks and mortar (or glass and aluminium). I’ve been in many of the new generation of music venues, from Cardiff and Copenhagen to Reykjavik and Manchester, and while they’re impressive and well-designed buildings, do you know what? Once you’ve looked at the specially commissioned sculptures and admired the gleaming exterior cladding…they all feel very much the same.

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