We have received the following letter from the music director of the Royal Swedish Opera about its planned refit:
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,
Sorry, maestro, but we take a different view:
I know the opera house in Stockholm and it is, as you say, a modest marvel, albeit one that is showing its age.
However, as both an artistic and economic proposition, it is always better in my experience to spend $300 million on a new build than a revamp.
Take London. We blew roughly that amount on refurbishing Covent Garden, adding an extra small stage of no great purpose, a showpiece Floral Hall (below), improved rehearsal space for the Royal Ballet and better upholstery on the seats. Glyndebourne, around the same time, built a new opera house, 50 percent larger than the existing one, and for a total cost of £35m ($60m). Who got the better deal? QED.
London blew £150m on redoing the South Bank concert halls ten years ago and the administrators now want to blow the same amount again on an upgrade. Bad idea. Knock it down and start again.
Same goes for Stockholm, in my view. It’s a shame the tame Swedish media have no made an issue of this.