Text and photo: Anders Modig

Swedish landmarks

A night at the Opera

Intentionally liberated from marble and gold, the Gothenburg Opera wants to be a low threshold cultural institution where everybody is welcome.

In one end of the Gothenburg Opera the audience is assembling in the foyer overlooking the harbour through a glassed wall. A buzz of expectance mixes with tinkling glasses as the setting sun gives a golden touch.
   In the other end of the 160-metre-tall building artists are focusing on tonight’s performance and stage workers are sliding the stage designs into place.
Minutes later the two flows, the artistic and the public, meet in the grand auditorium in the middle. You sit down on one of 1 280 red velvet seats. The conductor raises his baton. The magic can begin.

Scenic solutions
The great stage auditorium on the Gothenburg Opera has copied several architectural solutions from stage design. For instance the auditorium is octagonal for acoustic reasons. But the round balconies dressed with ribbed lights create an illusion of a round room.
   Not strange, since the responsible architect Jan Izikowitz has a lot of practical experience from both acting and set designing. Thus he knows all about hiding things behind spotlights, and as you might have already guessed, the round light in the ceiling hides a platform with a lot of the stage technique.
Says Izikowitz about the Opera house that was completed in 1994: “I am proud of it, and I think it has aged well. I still find new things to appreciate.”

Modern and traditional
He continues: “It is a simple point to make if you say that it is suppose to be a reminder of a ship. But of course it is inspired by all the marine stuff in the area. Ships, waves, seagulls, cranes et cetera”. Other details may not be as obvious to a first time visitor: When you enter the building you turn a corner, which automatically makes you slow down. The theory and conch shell shape is the same used on highway intersections. Also the leaning roof in the sunset-drenched foyer creates a drama. As for the flow from the other end of the building, it is extremely functional and efficient. Its 500 employees of 30 nationalities utilize every square inch, be it for wig making, administration or blacksmithing. It reminds of an industry where every process has a logical place that enables a smooth flow.

New opportunities
“This wasn’t a normal competition, this was a joint project between the city, the builders and us,” says Izikowitz. Thus the architect’s vision was subject to many compromises. ”I’d like to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh: ‘it didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined. But it turned out.’ And we managed to do it on time and held the budget.”
The Gothenburg Opera does not only stage opera and ballet, but also musicals, concerts and modern dance. On average there is one show per day, and last year 232 355 tickets were sold.
   A rise in visits is expected now that a major road that was an obstacle has gone underground in the Göta tunnel opened in June. This is an opportunity to dramatically enhance the City.
   Says Mr Izikowitz: “The Opera house was never meant to be a solitary. I just hope that the area will get something more than just a stupid park which is the only thing planned until now. It’s preposterous! This is a perfect space for apartments and offices. Now we have the perfect opportunity to extend the city to the water, to create another annual ring of Gothenburg!”

Completion year: 1994
Architect: Lund & Valentin arkitekter
Square metres: 29 000
On the repertoire 2006:
Opera: Don Giovanni, Falstaff, Arabella
Ballet: Stravinskij, Aurora
Musical: Cats (in Swedish)
Web: www.opera.se

Anders Modig Ord & Bild