Finally we are on the Grieghallen stage rehearsing Cunning Little Vixen after a week in tiny Klokkeklang in the bowels of the hall. It’s hard not to feel a mild sense of panic. So little time, and a complex production with far more technology that we’ve ever worked with before, a big cast, video, dancers, children, trap-doors, disappearing/appearing staircases, flying trees and moving flowerbeds. And losing two days last week on stage (the set had to come out for a Bergen Philharmonic concert, then be re-rigged overnight) was less than helpful. It hits home hard just how badly we need an opera house here in Bergen with rehearsal space and the opportunity to work with stable resources, costume workshops – and time. No-one, of course, has forced us to be this ambitious – although the clamour for new ’made in Bergen’ productions burbles on in the local press – but for sure, with this opera, the pressure is on.
So it’s interesting to read, in my colleague Per Boye Hansen’s blog from Sunday 3rd March, that he raises the discussion about whether lavish productions produced outside Oslo are advisable, or indeed sustainable.
I would absolutely defend the diversity and autonomy of culture organisations outside the capital. Oslo has important national performing arts institutions, principally the opera and ballet and the national theatre. These have a critical responsibility, both as significant landmark buildings, and as the anchor of Norway´s performing arts. Both employ substantial ensembles, and, in the case of the opera/ballet, several hundred staff + orchestra in its support. Bergen National Opera may have a tiny core staff – currently 13 – but it has the fantastic advantage of flexibility. Everything we do, whether it is pop-up opera on Fløybanen or Janáček on the main stage, we can create uniquely, mixing great international artists with young Nordic talent, rural kids with distinguished composers, or American directors with Finnish designers.
And it is that fluid diversity which surely is critical to the Norwegian opera mix overall. Last week, we had a young Swedish soprano and a great young tenor from Bellarus perform opera dinner cabaret in a crowded piano bar. Meanwhile, Norwegian Gunda-Maria Bruce and Russian Alexander Polkovnikov from the Vixen cast were working in local schools, roundly surprising children whom opera had never touched before; and on the Grieghallen main stage, internationally acclaimed bass Iain Paterson was rehearsing with his “on-stage wife”, Bergen-based Daniella Lancu.
It’s great that a number of the smaller regional companies will combine on occasion, and that small communities continue to think big. Per is right – collaboration is often practical and effective. But combining on production is not just about accommodating physical distances or maximising tight budgets. It isn´t just a question of having, say, a performance of La Traviata in Molde for the sake of having opera: the issue must also be about identity. In Bergen, we think it extremely important to bring expertise, new thinking, curiosity, adventure and, yes, risk, into Norwegian artistic life and creative practices from cultures other than our own – and to have Norwegian artists and audiences participate, share, celebrate and debate. And, as we look outwards, we also encourage those others to appreciate the remarkable things grown at home.
I’d argue, too, as we congratulate Opera Nordfjord on its terrific achievement with Magic Flute, in its own theatre and in Oslo, that it is the very fact that the opera was created uniquely and independently, offering something away from the norm and unconventional, that made it so special. So when we consider collaboration, co-production or perhaps a touring show from Operaen, lets beware of blandness, of compromise or of settling for less than the very distinct expression of identity to which every culture organisation is entitled – in the capital or elsewhere.
04 March, 2013