High pension costs for employees who are forced to retire at an early age are striking sour notes at the Norwegian Opera & Ballet. Its landmark Opera House on Oslo’s eastern waterfront, meanwhile, is also suffering another round of discolouration of its iconic white marble.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Monday that the pension costs amount to a “pension bomb” that has torn through the Opera company’s balance sheet. DN reported that the Opera has “in reality” a negative net worth of NOK 450 million because of the “galloping” pension premiums it must pay for dancers and performers who retire as early as at age 41.
Pension obligations, according to updated figures released to DN, amount to NOK 1.1 billion, while pension assets are much lower, at NOK 740 million. “There are always swings,” Marta Færevaag Hjelle of the Opera told DN, “but we are undergoing extreme developments that only seem to go one way. Pension obligations have grown to a size outside out economic parameters.” As usual, the Opera is turning to the state, which owns Den Norske Opera og Ballett, and asking for NOK 577 million in extra funding this year and NOK 589 million next year.
Meanwhile, maintenance costs for the Opera House that opened in 2008 are also higher than expected and the biggest worry now is how the building’s white marble continues to yellow as the years roll by. News bureau NTB reported over the weekend that Italian marble experts have been hired to examine the discolouration and, hopefully, come up with a solution.
Statsbygg, the state agency in charge of state-owned property like the Opera House, concluded in a report last fall that the problem was tied more to chemistry than geology and may be related to water’s effect on the marble. “First we have to find out what is actually happening,” said Anett Andreassen of Statsbygg. “Then we’ll decide how to deal with it.”