Checking out the architectural gem of the Oslo Opera House from above and within.
Architecture is a subject that often comes up right away when people talk about Scandinavia. Along with Vikings, fjords, the Northern Lights and the winter chill, architectural innovation and design is probably the best-known attribute of Scandinavia for people from outside of the area.
(That, and IKEA. Sorry, Scandinavian friends. It is what it is…)
At any rate, one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture, one that demonstrates the clean lines, sleek angles, and breathtaking artistry that it has come to be known for is the Oslo Opera House.
Opera House Oslo, Norway has only been around since 2008, but nonetheless it has become one of the iconic attractions for visitors who are new to the Norwegian capital.
But it’s not just a box to check off on a tourist’s list of must-see places; the Opera House covers a sprawling half-million square feet (49,000 square meters) and boasts art installations, galleries, and interiors created in conjunction with artists — including the clever and functional perforated cladding designed by artist Olafur Eliasson that disguises the building’s supporting structures.
That’s not even to mention the 1,100 rooms and three performance spaces in total, including the wood-lined, horseshoe-shaped, 1,300-seat main auditorium that make up the beating heart of the Opera House.
Another great innovation that went into the design is glass fronting one side of a number of spaces dedicated to the backstage work needed to put on the various shows that are performed at the Oslo Opera House. This clever design quirk in the Oslo Opera House architecture allows passersby a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting up a ballet, opera or other performance.
Normally hidden places like the ballet rehearsal room, the scenic design shop, the costume shop, and the room where the scenery is painted—which are typically closed-off, windowless, dank and dismal spaces only seen by the artists themselves while they labour—are all pushed toward the outside of the building.
The design of the Opera House has brought these vital backstage components of the operas and concerts that are performed here into the light in an organic way, allowing the audience to feel as if they are a part of the show on an entirely new level.
But you don’t even have to go inside to appreciate the beauty and forethought that went into the Oslo Opera House architecture (though you absolutely should). Even beyond the open-sided tech areas of the building, the thoughtfulness and meticulous work that went into designing every tiny detail quickly becomes apparent.
The building itself is covered in white granite and marble from Carrara, Italy, and like the best of Scandinavian architecture, Oslo Opera House blends seamlessly into the surrounding area.
This seamless integration into the surrounding landscape combined with the deceptively simple lines of the compound’s structure all culminates in the Oslo Opera House overlooking the head of the Oslofjord on the water’s edge in the Bjørvika neighbourhood of central Oslo.
Indeed, at first glance, Opera House Oslo appears to be an organic part of the scenery, all sleek angles rising from the water, counterpoised with jutting blocks above.
And it is with the typical respect for nature and the natural surroundings of the area that we’ve come to expect from Scandinavian designers that Oslo Opera House architect, the firm Snøhetta has crafted this amazing work.
The result is that visitors say the Opera House appears to them as if it were a glacier slowly sliding into the sea; others see a ski slope angling sharply down to terminate at the water’s edge. Still others find the juxtaposition of the angles and squares to be evocative of a massive ship docked in the harbour.
Up on a roof
But perhaps the best part of the design, the part of the Oslo Opera House architecture that visitors generally find to be the most striking is that the angles of the building slope all the way down to ground level. This means you can literally stroll up onto the award-winning Oslo Opera House roof and enjoy an unbeatable view of the surrounding city and fjord below, even while a soprano is hitting the high notes in the middle of her big aria below your feet.
One of the most fascinating facts about the Opera House is that the roofing is decorated with some 36,000 luminous marble blocks forming a patchwork “carpet” that affords visitors a gorgeous view even when they are gazing down at their feet.
The walk to reach the highest point of the Oslo Opera House roof is a series of gently-sloping ramps, all laid out with interlocking blocks of white, light gray or pale salmon marble, and lined with generous, low walls that serve as resting points and places to just take a moment to take in all the surrounding beauty.
Any given day you can see dozens of tourists and locals alike hanging out on the benches or low walls built into the exterior structure of the Opera House, Oslo, taking in the surrounding scenery and enjoying the view.
But perhaps what is most striking about the Oslo Opera House is the contrasts built into the design of the structure. The white and gray marble rooftops a massive wall of glass with minimal framing that overlooks the fjord. And at the centre of the structure, the low marble gives way to a white aluminum-clad central block tower housing the main stage.
And once you enter the building the structural contrasts become even more striking. Centred in the main foyer, surrounded by the minimalist framing and white beams supporting the huge glass walls stands the wood-lined central auditorium. The natural wood lends a warmth to the interiors of the Opera House, contrasting with the cool, clinical feel of the exterior and the glass walls.
Taking a peek into the main auditorium for one of the Oslo Opera House events is a treat that is not to be missed. The horseshoe-shaped room seats some 1,300 spectators, yet seeing a show there feels remarkably intimate due to the clever layout of the space.
On an Oslo Opera House guided tour, you guide will spend time to let you take in the amazing crystal chandelier that presides over the main auditorium, made up of some 5,800 hand-crafted crystals and lending a sense of classical Europe to the space.
Yet it is fully modern as well, with LED lighting cleverly placed behind the chandelier’s crystals that can evoke a sense of moonlight glowing over the space. Another nod to modern life in the construction of the Opera House can be seen in the digital libretti built into the seat backs that allow opera-goers to follow along in Norwegian, English or another language, and saving quite a few trees in the process of getting rid of paper handouts.
Art for art’s sake
Another highlight of the interior of the Oslo Opera House tour—apart from actually seeing one of the numerous Norwegian and international operas, ballets and concerts that pass through every year—is the art installations, starting with the massive curtain itself, created by artist Pae White.
She conceived the curtain to be reminiscent of crumpled aluminum foil, and created it by scanning a photo of actual foil then feeding that information into a computer-linked loom that wove the curtain out of wool, cotton and polyester. The resulting 3-dimensional effect created by the 1,100-pound, 74-foot wide, 36-foot tall curtain is stunning and adds a new level of artistry to the main auditorium.
Other art installations of the Opera House interior and exterior include film and video work by artists Bodil Furu and Trine Lise Nedreaas and many other rotating installations. Artists were also involved in every step of the design of the marble and stone exterior, so it’s no accident that every last detail of the structure is so striking.
But perhaps the highlight of the visual art at the Oslo Opera House is the steel and glass structure out in the fjord in front of the building. Titled “She Lies” and created by artist Monica Bonvicini, the structure is permanently installed on a concrete pad in the water in front of the Oslo Opera House.
But by design the piece shifts and moves with the tides and wind, presenting different faces to the viewer. Bonvinci has stated that she designed the installation to offer viewers changing expressions of the light as it reflects off the water and glass surfaces.
All in all, any trip to the capital of Norway must include a visit to the Oslo Opera House, both inside and out!
Here are a few quick facts…
Where is the Oslo Opera House?
The Oslo Opera House is located Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, in the Bjørvika neighbourhood in the centre of Oslo, at the head of the Oslofjord. Take a tram or bus to Oslo Central Station and the Oslo Opera House is just a short walk. There is also paid parking nearby.
What is the Oslo Opera House capacity?
The main auditorium has 1,364 seats, while the two smaller auditoriums hold 200 and 400 people respectively. The entire structure spans over 530,000 square feet and houses 1,100 rooms.
Who designed the Oslo Opera House?
The Oslo Opera House design was created by Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta and chosen from over 350 entries. Construction began in 2003 and was completed in 2008 with a total budget of $760 million.
Well, opera of course, as well as a lot of ballet and classical concerts ranging from small chamber quartets to symphonies. They also present innovative and more avant-garde concerts and dance performances.
Prices vary depending on the type of show you want to see and where you want to sit, but usually range from about 100 kr to 700 kr ($11 to $77).
Is there an Oslo Opera House guided tour?
Yes. There are guided tours offered daily in Norwegian, English and German which last about 50 minutes, and customized tours can be arranged as well. The cost for the regular tour is 120 kr ($13.40) for adults, and 70 kr ($7.80) for children.
You can also wander around and explore the public areas on your own during their regular opening hours.