Man overboard: Oslo Opera is sinking again

Man overboard: Oslo Opera is sinking again


norman lebrecht

October 26, 2016

We hear that Norwegian National Opera and Ballet has lost its fifth artistic director in eight years. Fonancially, it is holed below the aterline.

Here’s an update from Michael Fergus, in Oslo:




The design of Oslo’s spectacular Opera House, completed in 2008, has been widely acclaimed. Inside, however, things are not so cheerful. The Chief Executive Officer Nils Are Karstad Lysø has just resigned.

The Opera House has had five artistic directors in just 8 years. Lysø was an unlikely choice for the job. When phoned by the Opera to take the job, he is reported as saying “Have you maybe got the wrong number ….?” An accountant with a background in the clothing industry, had no experience, professed interest or track record in the Arts.

However his position within the Opera put him above both the Opera and Ballet chiefs. Within one year he had recommended that the five year contract of the Artistic Director of the Opera, Per Boye Hansen should not be renewed. This caused uproar and protests in artistic circles throughout Europe, as it was widely considered that Boye Hansen had made the Norwegian Opera one of the best and most innovative in Europe. But Lysø may have found the financial issues too hot to handle. While his own salary increased by 30%, the Opera was firing staff and lost € 7 million in 2015. Without pension costs, the Opera might have made a € 10 million profit.

The Opera is already advertising for a successor to Lysø. One of the requirements is that applicants should have and interest in and knowledge of Norwegian cultural life!


  • John Borstlap says:

    Maybe these problems were already symbolized in the architecture, where one of the floor levels is sinking considerably.

  • pnm says:

    Things may not be perfect, but I don’t think they’re as bad as this indicates.

    Lysø, who is chief executive officer, not artistic director, has given the board notice he’ll leave next summer.

    There are separate artistic directors for opera, ballet and music, and there has been turnover in these positions since the new opera building opened. And yes, the pension obligations are a very real threat to the company.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Rather reminiscent of ah advert in I think the BMJ many years ago, for a consultants psychiatrist. It concluded: interest in mental health an advantage.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    “Fonancially, it is holed below the aterline.”

    What dialect is this?

  • John Borstlap says:

    I called a nephew who knows the mother of the porter who has an affair with the cleaning lady who kept the design studio tidy of the architect Lundevall when he struggled to make the 3D model of the building, and asked him to find-out more about the design. It transpires that it originally consisted of two square blocks one on top of the other, perfectly straight, the large flat one underneath as one would expect. The model was made of cardboard, and the architect was so happy with the invention of the design – espeically the trouvaille of the squares – that he ordered the cook to bake a cake in this form for the lunch when he would show the model to the authorities who would fund the opera house. On this lunch however, the cake imploded the very moment it was served on the table, but instead of culinary disappointment, the government officials got very enthusiastic and convinced the architect to adapt his model to the new form the cake had acquired, which they found much more attractive to look at, and very tasty when they ate it. In spite of being quite demoralized, the architect obeyed, when his protestations were met with a possible withdrawel of financial support if the original design would not be changed. So that’s why the opera house looks as it does.