Henrietta Bredin

A world elsewhere

Henrietta Bredin visits Oslo's new opera house and finds it impressive, both inside and out

Henrietta Bredin visits Oslo’s new opera house and finds it impressive, both inside and out

Oslo is a small city, with a population of just over half a million, but it now boasts, funded entirely from the public purse, and on budget — Olympic Committee, please note — a spanking new all-singing, all-dancing opera house which has already rooted itself deeply in Norwegian affections, despite initial resistance from many quarters, especially in rural areas. Completed an impressive five months ahead of schedule, it sits on the waterfront in the old harbour area of Bjørvika like an iceberg that might slip into the fjord at any minute.

A governing idea behind it was that it should prove a popular gathering place for people whether or not they were planning to attend an opera or ballet performance, and this seems to have been a resounding success. On a glittering June day I found a family with a baby in a push chair having a picnic on the roof, assorted half-naked sun-worshippers spread like basking seals on a long, paved slope leading down into the water and, inside, bunches of contented people drinking coffee, eating pastries and admiring the boat-studded, gull-swooping view through a vast expanse of glass.

Snøhetta, the architects responsible for the building, have taken inspiration from the Norwegian landscape in winter, so that it looks from the outside, all interlocking planes of white marble and glass, like a cross between an ice floe and a craggy snow-covered mountainside. The interior is light-saturated with, to one side, a staircase and a great curved wall made of Baltic oak and, to the other, a pale green and white honeycomb structure designed by Olafur Eliasson behind which is a cloakroom (which at the moment, with no bulky outdoor clothes hanging there, resembles a bare-branched steel forest) and generous, beautifully designed lavatories.

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