Is it an airport? A postal depot? No, it’s your new opera house

Is it an airport? A postal depot? No, it’s your new opera house


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2015



The opera house being built in Harbin, China, is – appropriately, you might think – the brainchild of a firm of architects called MAD. Harbin is a wetlands environment and the designers were concerned that the opera house should rise from the marshes, rather in the way the concert hall in Lucerne rises from the lake.

Harbin_2 Opera_House_MAD_Hufton_Crow_Slide_3

But not everyone agrees and the debate is starting to heat up.

Does this look like an opera house?


(And how soon can I get to visit?)


  • Eddie Mars says:

    It’s magnificent that at least one far-thinking country is spending money on large-scale cultural infrastructure.

    Harbin has an attractive city centre in the Style Moderne. It deserves a fine opera house. Congratulations to them.

  • NoMeGu says:

    Whenever I see one of these mega-projects, these super-expensive high-design buildings for opera houses and auditóriums, I worry, because very often they end up under-useddue to the lack of founding to provide the spaces with content. Examples? Les Ars in Valencia (Spain), Niemeyer Centre in Asturias (Spain)…

  • Mao Tse Tung says:

    China needs an opera house like Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London need a Shao Lin Temple.

    It isn’t our culture, never was.

    Peking opera is on the decline and we should spend money on Turandot? We can’t train young Chinese in the art of our own opera and we pay foreigners come and sing in German, Italian, French to us?

    When will Chailly conduct Mǔ Dān Tíng (The Peony Pavilion) at La Scala? Yea, I thought so.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Of course China should cultivate its own musical traditions, without which the world would be all the poorer.

    • Alvaro says:

      Dont worry. Its all business, a house of cards fad of the day that will die once the current generation of Chinese people realize what europeans and americans have already realized:

      Classical music does NOT make you smarter, or more calm, or a better person, or more sophisticated. It is simply something that your parents liked because they couldnt have it during the cultural revolution….just like wine! Now China floods in wine and classical music….but like any bubble it will burst and sooner than later these venues will be presenting things that are relevant to the culture in which they live.

      Classical music is a prime product of European civilization, but thats about it. Its a luxury service that some will enjoy, and some will not. And there is nothing wrong about that.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Wrong again. Classical music in countries like China represent modernization, an entry into the big wide world, and into the somewhat smaller window of cultural sophistication. It is an impressive embodiment of humanist civilizational values and certainly old Confucius would have loved it – as an education of the soul. Classical music does NOT make everybody smarter, or more calm, or a better person, or more sophisticated, as some contributions of this blog amply demonstrate, but then – there are also people ineducational and they will find their own type of music.

        • Alvaro says:

          European Opera Houses are presenting circus acts (including Igudesman & Joo – the favorite bufoons of Norman), ‘movie with orchestra’ schemes (including the Concertgebouw), pop singers and the such. In europe.

          I rest my case. The buildings will survive, and will be filled by whatever sells seats. Its as simple as that. You call it ‘opera house’ because right now that is what the chinese market is buying – like Chateau Lafite.

          In 50 years? I bet you anything the fad will have passed.

    • V.Lind says:

      I read the bumph you linked. Not a word about acoustics. But I suppose it hardly matters…

    • Dave T says:

      This is a fantastic project. Thanks for posting.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is a ‘folding building’, when it does no longer bring-in enough money, it can be folded and spread-out somewhere else. It is designed as a luxury purse, because that is the central idea in most of the architect’s work.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The thing looks like a giant luxury toilet. Not much respect there for what is supposed to be performed within.

  • william osborne says:

    The new opera house is beautiful. The cross-synthesis of cultures has always been one of the principle factors of creativity in human history.

    China’s per capita GDP is 41 times higher than it was in 1980. About a billion people have been lifted out of poverty. One example is access to electricity. In 1993 less than 5% of China’s rural households had a refrigerator, but today about 70% have them. Taken as a whole, such improvements in human well-being in China over the last 50 years have greatly enhanced the quality of life for 1.4 billion people — unquestionably one of the greatest achievements in human history. We are already seeing how this will also eventually create a turning point in the history of classical music.

  • Dave T says:

    The ratio of back-of-the-house to front is the highest I’ve seen; very commodious, indeed. Production people should love it.

  • William Safford says:

    It looks like someone spilled two cans of house paint that admixed.

    More important: how does it sound?

  • Conrad van Alphen says:

    Has building started? Is it almost finished? Curious. I will travel to Harbin for the fist time in two weeks to conduct the Harbin Symphony Orchestra.