A national opera is cut adrift

The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet has published a ferocious attack on the management of the Oslo Opera by its veteran critic, Professor Ståle Wikshåland.  Under the headline ‘A Ship Adrift’, it attacks the chief executive, recruited from the clothing industry, responsible for removing the artistic leadership, leaving the company without proper direction. Wikshåland writes:

Things have gone wrong again in an attempt to establish a world-class Opera… On Friday afternoon, before the quiet Whitsun weekend, a press release was sent out by Norwegian Opera and Ballet saying that Artistic Director Per Boye-Hansen was leaving. Not immediately but when his contract expires in 2017. And he was not going voluntarily, but with a heavy heart. He made no effort to disguise that.

… Some of the greatest opera performances I have seen at home and abroad have been under Per Boye Hansen´s leadership here in Oslo. Boye-Hansen has truly built up the opera from the inside out.

The reponsibility points towards: Managing Director Nils Are Karstad Lysø. He has maintained a low profile since coming from Moods of Norway (a fashion manufacturer and retailer), but he should at least have learned that you do not change the repertoire and the workforce of an opera like you do with fashion collections…

The timing points to Lysø, rather than the Opera´s board under Ellen Horn which is finishing its term of office next week. So once more attention has to be directed at the way the Opera is run. And it has come in for hefty criticism from this newspaper, and from Boye Hansen himself before he became Artistic Director.

The model where the Managing Director is the ultimate boss is unusual, and it has only worked two places I know. At the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen and at Covent Garden in London. And it has worked because neither of the managing directors have taken it upon themselves to think that it was they who decided on artistic matters. And this is how it still works in Copenhagen and London.

What is Lysø thinking of doing now as boss of the whole outfit? And who are the world-class opera performers he thinks he can bring to Oslo, under the direction of Managing Director Lysø?

oslo opera

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  • It is sad to say, but the Norwegian arts scene is managed by mostly amateurish, provincial and extremely incompetent individuals who not only don’t know anything about the management of an important and major arts institution, but won’t let anybody with any skill or knowledge, especially if acquired outside of Norway come anywhere near their institution. It is an “old boys club” par excellence and what we are seeing here at the opera is entirely representative of the stupidity and mismanagement that reigns throughout the Norwegian arts scene, with a few small exceptions. Arrogance, pretentiousness, extreme provincialism and flaunting an attitude of superiority are all Norwegian characteristics that have destroyed the institutions that need professional world class managers. They won’t get any! It is a well known fact within the industry that Norway is a closed society, loathsome and suspicious of accomplished outsiders, preferring to keep it local and extremely provincial. Now we see what they get. It is not enough to be a rich country and build magnificent opera houses and halls and then have them managed by local “farmers” who don’t have a clue and look like peasants on the international stage. I have personally met no less than eight Norwegian orchestra/opera directors and each time I leave astounded at the provincialism and at the same time arrogance of these incompetent “managers”. I wish these institutions the best of luck, but I fear that they will continue on with seeking only local secretaries and piano tuners to manage their orchestras and operas. Will this major disaster change things? I doubt it, but certainly hope so.

    • Jens, you have summed up the position beautifully. I noticed that Professor Wikshåland made no mention of Hansen’s predecessor, Paul Curran, who was hired to put the Den Norske Opera “on the map” but found himself stymied at every turn because of the very things you have written. One heard stories about the orchestra not wishing to perform on Saturday evenings and local composers expecting Curran to schedule their unwritten works but with no guarantee that any deadline would be met. Curran brought in a number of young and exciting directors, Herheim and Strassberger, yet was accused of cronyism. Even Curran’s fluency in Norwegian was held against him in some quarters as “showing off” which sounds absurd to an outsider. One pro-Curran writer in Oslo described Curran’s brief tenure as artistic director there as “an all too short golden period for this company.”

    • I heard similar statements about the closed minds and provincialism about Denmark and Finland as well, also Sweden, but to a somewhat lesser degree.
      Well, if it works for them… it only becomes a bit funny when they act like they are on top of the world.
      Maybe it’s typical for very small relatively homogenous (read inbred 😉 populations.

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