Copenhagen's brilliant new Operaen or Opera House opened in January, 2005, with a performance of "Aida" by the Royal Danish Opera Company. Costing $442 million dollars and taking 3 1/2 years to build, the opera house was a gift to the city of Copenhagen by the enormously wealthy shipping magnate, Sir Maersk McKinney Moller, who, it was said, intended to name the Opera House after Queen Margarethe II.
The building, always controversial because of its design, again came into question when Sir Maersk Moller insisted that metal bars or grids be built into the front "bubble" window of the building over the objections of the architect, Henning Larsens Tegnestue. The architect nearly quit the project over the matter.
This modern Opera House combines granite, marble, limestone and hardwoods in the interior and exterior design and exemplifies modern Danish architecture. The building can accommodate 1,400 to 1,500 guests and will also be home to the Royal Danish Ballet Company for stage performances such as "The Little Mermaid," and "La Sylphid." The Opera House is situated in Holmen, the place of the former Royal Naval Dock Yard. It certainly has a commanding presence on the waterfront and is one of the major buildings which we saw from our canal cruise/tour. The Opera House also contains the Opera House Restaurant and has accommodations for travelers.
1. Explaining the opera
2. People listening in the foyer
Like most opera houses, Operaen offers a free introductory talk before each performance, so unprepared opera goers will at least have a slight idea of what they are about to see and hear.
The talk in Operaen was of course in Danish, so I didn't have a clue about what she was saying, but she sounded totally competent and articulate, like most young Danish women -- I think they must teach public speaking in the schools in Denmark.
The setting was casual and seemingly spontaneous. She just turned up with her microphone and started talking, and lots of people gathered around to listen.
1. Bridges from the lobby to the auditorium
2. The lobby of Operaen
3. Plan of the foyer and auditorium
4. Ceiling of the auditorium
They offer guided tours of the new opera house -- in Danish only -- on most Saturday and Sunday mornings. The exact dates are listed on their website a few months ahead of time, and you have to book in advance -- no tickets at the door.
On the morning of my tour about a hundred people had signed up, so they divided us into five or six groups. When I said I didn't understand a word of Danish they put me in Celeste's group. She's a young American woman who grew up in Denmark and speaks fluent English and Danish. She said that when she spoke to the whole group it would be only in Danish, but when we were walking from one place to the next I should go with her and she would give me a summary in English, which I thought was a very good arrangement.
She said at the start that Operaen has over 1100 rooms but we would only see about five of them, including the lobby, the auditorium, the backstage areas and the black box, which is a small experimental stage called the Takkelloftet or rigging loft. I didn't take any photos of the actual tour, but the backstage areas look very much like the ones in the new Bastille Opera in Paris -- huge and very modern, with lots of space to store stage sets so they can be rolled onto the stage when needed.
In one of the hallways Celeste stopped at some posters showing the individual musicians of the opera orchestra in various past decades from the 19th and 20th centuries. At the oldest poster she pointed out the one woman in the orchestra, among nearly a hundred men, and though I didn't understand a word of what she was saying I of course knew what she was talking about.
When we started walking again I told her I knew the first woman musician ever to be hired by the Frankfurt Opera orchestra -- she's in her eighties now and was once a guest at one of my opera appreciation courses, where she told us how as a young woman she tricked the orchestra into giving her an audition. The audition as always was behind a curtain, so the orchestra members didn't know who was playing, and they were flabbergasted when they found out that the new violinist they had selected was actually a woman. (Today the orchestra is about half men and half women, and no one thinks anything of it, but it was a scandal at the time.)
At our next stop Celeste told my story to the whole group in Danish.
It turns out that Celeste doesn't actually work at the opera house, but only gives tours of the building because she used to study architecture. This was one of her last opera house tours because she is moving to Zanzibar in the fall to teach at a Scandinavian school. (I'm now her five hundred and fifteenth friend on Facebook so I can keep track of how she gets along down there.)
1. Operaen from the side, with a blue sky!
2. Pointing towards Operaen
3. Facade of the opera house lobby
4. Bicycles at the stage door
5. Operaen from across the harbor
Copenhagen's fantastic new opera house is called "Operaen", which simply means "The Opera" because the -en ending is the definite article in Danish.
In the second photo a Copenhagen cyclist is pointing out the new opera house to her visitors as they come up onto the bridge called Knippelsbro. They can't see it yet, but it will come into view as soon as they are on the bridge.
Operaen was built in only three years, from 2001 to 2004, on an island in the Holmen district of Copenhagen on an east-west axis with Amalienborg, the Royal Residence, and the dome of The Marble Church.
The building was a gift to the Danish state from a foundation set up by the second richest person in Denmark, Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, who can see it from the headquarters of his shipping company on the other side of the harbor.
There is a tendency among tourists to moan about the fact that Operaen is not in the traditional city center, but in fact it is very close by and is easily reachable by boat, bus or bicycle. From my hotel it took me exactly nineteen minutes to get to Operaen by bicycle, after I knew the way.
Location of Operaen on Google Maps.
Operaen (The Copenhagen Opera House) is the national opera house of Denmark, and among the most modern opera houses in the world. The Opera is located on Holmen – built in alignment with Amalienborg Palace, Amaliehaven and The Marble Church.
The quite impressive building was designed by architect Henning Larsen, and opened on January 15, 2005. It totals over 41,000 square metres and has 14 storeys, of which 5 lies underground. The Opera House contains 1,000 rooms, which includes the main theatre with a capacity of 1,500 seats, several rehearsal rooms as well as a big orchestral rehearsal room.
There are guided tours inside the Opera House – but I have never visited the building myself…
Operahus is an impressive futuristic modern building (was built between 2001&2004 by architect Henning Larsen) with more than 1,000 rooms in 14 storeys(5 of them underground!) that you can visit it at the island of Holmen (the end of bus route).
The building faces the water (you can see Amalienborg Palace at the other side (with Marble church behind the palace) but as we didn’t have time to attend any show inside we just took pictures of the building from the other side of the harbour, just in front of Amalienborg Palace.
Of course you can visit the Opera and take a guided tour but I was informed that it’s in Danish and didn’t want to spare 115DKK for a building that I didn’t like anyway :) (for those that are interested you have to book in advance)
The Opera House of Copenhagen (Danish: Operaen på Holmen) is the national opera house of Denmark. It was designed by Henning Larsen, is one of the most modern opera houses in the world.
A small half century after the Dane Jørn Utzon Sydney Opera House, one of the most famous opera houses in the world, had designed, was also the Danish capital Copenhagen is a modern opera house. It is almost completely surrounded by water, like the Sydney Opera House.
On 15 January 2005, after a construction period of just over three years, the building with a gala concert in use, in the presence of Queen Margrethe II.
Copenhagen's striking Opera House is one of the most expensive of its kind, costing over half a billion dollars when it was finally completed in 2000. It's located on the island of Holmen, overlooking the harbour. But perhaps the best views are from the other side of the water, in front of Amalienborg Palaces. It was build deliberately to be in alignment with these palaces, and you can see clearly all the way from the opera house to Frederick's Church behind.
If you are on a canal tour, one of the major sightseeing, which you can see, is the U$ 442 million building of the first opera house of Denmark, handed over in 2004. It was a gift to the Danish people: the businessman who paid for the building was the owner of the company Maersk. It was designed by the architect Henning Larsen without any architectural competition commonly held in public projects of this type.
There is lot of criticism of the building, which are centered on its bubble-like shape. I myself think, this " Flying Saucer" with its futuristic design is really interesting, however, not for an opera house. I don't really like this shape...
The house may be visited on a guided tour for 115,00 DKK, but it is conducted only in Danish.
The Opera House was donated in August 2000 by the A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation. Arnold Peter Møller is one of the founders of the company Mærsk which is the largest company in Scandinavia today.
The architect is Henning Larsen. Construction works started in June 2001 and were finished on 1st October 2004. The Opera House was opened on 15th January 2005 with an opening concert. Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller (the son of Arnold Peter Møller), the Danish President Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark were present. The first Opera that was played on 26th January 2005 was Aida from Verdi.
The Opera opened in January 2005, and whilst we booked tickets to go on a guided tour backstage in September that year, we didn't get to go until June 2006. That's how popular it has become! No wonder, since it was financed by A.P (Maersk McKinney) Møller - Denmark's biggest business man known for primarily shipping - who has a fund for things to benefit the public. Architect Henning Larsen must have had a field day and several artists have also been included to create for instance the three huge chandeliers in the foyer and other pieces. The Opera was then handed over to the Prime Minister in October 2004 as a gift to the Danish people. The Royal Theatre, to which the Opera belongs, is very happy to finally have a stage big enough for proper opera and with acoustics to match it!
My own favourites are two. First, the walls of the auditorium. From the foyer, you get to your seats by walking through a rounded maple wall reminding me of "James and the Giant Peach"! Once inside, you feel like you are cuddled inside this giant thing instead which is very relaxing. I think the only ones less relaxed here are the royals as their seats are in the worst possible place along a side. But apparently, that's how they wanted it to be to not be "above their people". My other favourite is the musical stones. Both on the side of the entrance outside, and in the foyer to the smaller stage, there are slabs of stone which you can hit and they will respond in different tones! Children happily discover this whilst adults think you're not allowed to "play" on the walls but yes, you are in fact encouraged to do so.
An interesting feature is also that the Opera sell cheap "standing tickets" these days. A new thing in Denmark but common in other countries to get a more mixed audience able to enjoy good music, they hope to promote it more in future to get sold out performances even more often.
1. Stage set for Tristan og Isolde
2. The orchestra
3. In the main auditorium
4. Audience in the third balcony
5. Taking their bows at the end
The first word I learned in Danish was og, meaning and, as in the opera Tristan og Isolde, by Richard Wagner (1813-1883).
I have written about Tristan and Isolde before, for instance on my Zürich intro page, where I noted that this opera "is said to be the most advanced music Wagner ever wrote, advanced meaning atonal, foreshadowing the 'modern' music of the 20th and 21st centuries." Wagner himself once wrote that he thought it would be banned, and that a good performance would drive people crazy.
The stage director for the Operaen production was the Danish heroic tenor Stig Andersen, who has sung the role of Tristan many times during his career. He also sang it twice in his own production, but not in the performance I attended. The Tristan I heard was Johnny van Hal, who was also fine, as was Iréne Theorin as Isolde. The only singer I had ever heard before was Randi Stene (as Brangäne), since she has sung at the Frankfurt Opera on several occasions.
What I liked most about Stig Andersen's staging was the ending. When Tristan dies he simply takes off his cloak, lays it down on the floor and steps off to the side of the stage, as though to show that death means simply shedding his outer shell but leaving his inner self intact. When Isolde comes in she picks up the cloak and sings to it, then lays it back down, then takes off her own cloak and lays it beside Tristan's to show that she has joined him in death.
So she is already dead when she sings her final aria.
1. Photo shooting in Operaen lobby
2. From the side
While I was in the lobby of Operaen there was a small photo shooting going on. One of the opera singers (she looks sort of like Miah Persson, but I'm not sure) was posing patiently in front of the rich maple-colored outer wall of the auditorium, while the photographer and lighting man took lots of pictures.
The auditorium is sometimes referred to as “the Conch” because of its shape, and it has the appearance of floating in the foyer, to which it is connected by bridges.
This arrangement reminds me of the new opera house in Erfurt, Germany, which has a funnel-shaped auditorium that also seems to be floating, detached from the rest of the building. (The house in Erfurt is smaller, though, and not as dramatic as the one in Copenhagen.)
We didn't actually visited the Opera House then but we admired the building from the gardens of Amalienborg. My companion and host in Copenhagen told me that the owner of Maersk (the world's largest container ship operator) donated the money to build it, which wasn't accepted by many at the beginning because this donation would be tax deductible - meaning that the state would be forced to "buy" it.
It is a shame that it is difficult to get to see inside Copenhagen's fabulous new opera house without a ticket or on a guided tour. This probably explains why there are hardly any pictures of the inside of the building here on VT. We were lucky enough to go to a performance here in November 2006. So, to complement the other tips here, we have included some photos of the main foyer and auditorium itself.
I felt that the foyer area was quite cold and sterile, despite the three fascinating lamps by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, and the bulbous wood-panelled walls of the auditorium. But once you go across the marble walkways into the auditorium itself you are in a completely different world - warm, dark, rich and cosy. The corridors are deep red, and the auditorium is dark blue with more dark orange wood panelling. The striking fluorescent design for the main stage curtain (fire curtain) is by Danish designer Per Arnoldi (see pictures).
And as an opera stage? Well, we saw a performance of the opera "Maskarade" by the famous Danish composer Carl Nielsen that I can only describe as fantastic. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening that was well worth the DKK450 per ticket that we paid.