International acclaim for Kristiansund's opera festival

The small norwegian town of Kristiansund is known to be the "town of opera" in Norway. Located on the windy west coast, the 17.000 inhabitants can trace their operatic roots back 200 years. Since 1971, they have also arranged an operafestival, which this year attracted an audience of over 10.000.

Anna Bolena (Knut Stiklestad & Ann Kristin Jones)

By Kyrre Tromm Lindvig

The operafestival in Kristiansund does not necessarily live up to the notions that are usually invoked by the term "opera". A town located almost into the ocean, with long traditions in fishing and shipbuilding, is not the most glamorous setting for a festival of any sort, especially not during the icy winter. Nevertheless, Kristiansunds operatradition lives on, this year more vital than ever. Combining high-level amateurs with national and international professional opera soloists, the over 40 concerts that were arranged during the festival weeks in February attracted a lot of attention, especially with the international press.

The renowned German magazine "Opernwelt" called the festival an "orchid in snow" and a long feature article can be read in its recent edition (nr.4.-2004). Also Austrian radio as well as the Swedish magazine "Tidskriften Opera" were present at this years festival, and the reviews were very edifying.

But what makes this festival so specially attractive?

A part is without no doubt due to the enormous contrasts between the icy cold and dark winter (anybody who has been at the Norwegian west coast in the wintertime can subscribe to that) which seems to swallow the little town and the enormous activity which can be witnessed in the opera field. Rune Svendsen, at the opera in Kristiansund, claims that the success is due to the ability to transform the European "high"art-form opera into Norwegian popular art and thereby bridging the high/low discussion so apparent in cultural debate in Europe.

Another important factor is the ability to use local amateurs, both on stage and in the orchestra, and high-ranking professionals. This combination is especially energizing, the locals claim.

This years festival also featured other events, the most important of these was probably the opera seminar, which featured leading figures in Norway's cultural life (among these Minister for Culture, Valgjerd Svarstad Haugland and Bjørn Simensen, head of the national opera in Oslo) discussing problems and possibilities for operatic art in Norway.

However, it is not only during the festival that Kristiansund has a vibrant operascene. The city has its own opera ensemble, which stages operas throughout the year. Since its beginning in 1928 over 60 operaes have been produced in Kristiansund, many of which were premieres.

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