Minister reshuffles the Opera’s board

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The Norwegian Opera & Ballet, which has long suffered from personnel and budget problems inside its popular landmark building, is now getting more musically talented members on its board of directors. Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland said she’s making the board changes in response to all the trouble at the Opera in recent months.

Norway’s Opera House is popular and and beautiful on the outside, but has been full of trouble inside. Now the government is hoping some changes on its board will help it face ongoing budget and personnel challenges. PHOTO:

“Because of the challenges the Opera faces, I have viewed it as necessary to give the Opera’s board greater artistic and cultural weight,” Helleland stated in announcing the board changes. “All told, the Opera’s board will now have broader and more relevant competence to handle the important strategic challenges that lie ahead.”

Gro Bergrabb, educated as an organist and choir director at Norway’s conservatory of music, will replace Monica Salthella, who was said to have resigned at her own request. Bergrabb, in addition to her long musical career, has served on several boards including Norsk kulturråd (Norway’s national council on culture) and most recently has been responsible for the Bodø International Organ Festival.

Helleland also expanded the board of the Opera & Ballet by adding composer and conductor Håkon Berge as a new member. Berge was also educated at the Norway’s national college of music and at the conservatory in Rogaland. He was director of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra from 2009 to 2013.

Anne Carine Tanum will continue head the board, despite some controversy over her leadership, but she’ll have former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, known for being an opera lover, as her deputy leader. Päivi Kärkkäinen, general director of the Finnish National Opera, will continue in her seat on the board.

It’s the second board reshuffle in two years, as the national opera has continued to be plagued by management drama, angry employees and personal conflict. Helleland, responsible for the state-controlled and publicly funded Opera, has also been criticized for being too passive. Now she’s hoping the board will be better equipped to deal with all the trouble it faces over skyrocketing pension costs and ongoing budget challenges in an Opera that’s proven far more expensive to operate and maintain since it moved to its architecturally acclaimed landmark headquarters on Oslo’s eastern waterfront.

Conflicts reached a high note earlier this year when its still-new music chief, Karl-Heinz Steffens, announced he would not renew his contract because it was “impossible” to cooperate with the also-new and incoming chief of the opera, Annilese Miskimmon. Tensions rose further when it became known that Steffens would resign this summer, before his contract runs out, but will take with him nearly NOK 1.2 million in severance pay. That enraged others who have complained that opera singers and other artists will likely no longer be offered permanent jobs with the Opera, and will have to live with the uncertainty of short-term contracts.

The Opera’s board and management were immediately accused again by a well-known Norwegian lawyer specializing in labour law of “poor leadership” and being forced into “buying themselves out of a problem they created themselves.” Lawyer Jan Dege told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it the entire episode was “unheard of in a Norwegian context.”

The Opera & Ballet is also losing its chief executive who approved the severance package, Nils Are Karstad Lysø, however. Lysø, who has decided to quit at the end of this summer, defended his deal with Steffens, who is staying on to direct what’s being hailed as a highly acclaimed production of Tosca, and he’ll lead the Opera orchestra’s long-planned tour to Helsinki and Copenhagen. Berglund

  • frenk

    ‘Too Passive’ – hilarious!

    Not sure why the Norwegian government is operating/controlling/managing an opera house?

    • inquisitor

      Because any financial plan, projection or prospectus about this project submitted in advance would prove that if it were a private business that had to prove itself to be financially feasible on its own merits that it would already be bankrupt, closed, altered into commercial office space by new owners and surviving.

      And “opera house” just rolls so deliciously off of the tongues of the bourgeoisie…that we must have one…because…culture.

      Meanwhile we jack up your property taxes 50% in a year’s time because the local government needs the money.

  • richard albert

    Although there is no agreed-upon ‘standard repertoire’ in opera, and there is a huge variation between countries, companies and even individual directors, I think it is safe to say that there are about 30 which are very frequently performed and a total of about 50 which are ‘accessible’. Almost everything by Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, etc. are staged repeatedly. But if you want to see anything by Dvořák other than [Rusalka], you need to book a flight to Prague, and that is just exactly what opera aficionados do. People who frequent opera, and attend classical concerts have, in general, seen the standards many times, and the popular remainder more than once. Unless it is something like [The Devil and Kate], or [Zaide] fans have probably seen most of them at least once. They attend more to see individual productions and singers than hear a certain opera for the tenth time. This is how fans define a quality product. The Royal Opera house in Covent garden is one such company and you need to book early. The Monday 19/06/17 performance of L’elisir d’amore has a few tickets left in the nosebleed section (The ‘Ampitheatre’). San Francisco changed directors a few years back, and got into financial straits. They stopped booking ‘Names’ and cut back on productions. They began to rent ‘Euro-Trash’ productions (as a local newspaper critic called them). They lost a good percentage of their subscribers, some sustaining members, and the ordinary ticket-holders stayed away in droves. They still haven’t gotten the bubble back. (The Principal Conductor, a Brit, shooting off his mouth about US politics did not help.) So, unless Oslo can get it together, start offering solid productions with at least well-known or rising talent, they will continue in this death spiral, and the taxpaying public will continue to get Saliari’s “Carping Mediocrity”. Putting more musicians in control will be a good thing, but because of the company’s outlook and structure, it isn’t likely to be a ‘fix’.