Thousands descend on Bergen

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The annual cultural event known as Festspillene is royally underway in Bergen, with an estimated 40,000 expected to fill local concert halls and theaters. King Harald and Queen Sonja followed tradition in opening this year’s Bergen International Festival, which runs through June 3.

It’s the largest music and arts festival in the Nordic countries, attracting talent from all over the world every May. This year’s event, however, has a distinctly Norwegian flair, with such local top names as pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, soprano Sissel Kyrkebø and violinist Arve Tellefsen.The events where they’re performing sold out before the festival began, not least Andsnes’ performance with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra on May 23. He’s an international star who packs houses from New York to London, not just in Norway. Andsnes was also due to perform with baritone Matthias Goerne on May 30.

Last year’s festival drew 37,000 people and this year even more were expected. The Norwegian state heavily subsidizes the event, and festival director Per Boye Hansen said he thinks it’s a good public investment.”We manage to match each public krone with our own income,” he told newspaper Aftenposten . “And because we can mount our own productions, we get a better return both nationally and internationally.”

Ticket sales were running around 15-20 percent ahead of last year, and interest from abroad was high, with 54 foreign journalists due in Bergen over the two-week festival.

Events are held all over Bergen, in such traditional venues as the Grieg Concert Hall and the famous composer’s former home outside of town, along with the 12-century Håkons Hall on the waterfront.

Three new theater productions were due to debut during the festival, including a five-hour long version of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “Wild Duck.”Several events also take place on the streets as well as inside the stately old theater Den Nationale Scene .

Bergen likes to call itself the “cultural capital” of Norway and the annual festival is a way for it to live up to its motto. Contemporary home-town hero Jon Fosse, the dramatist, was to be celebrated during the event along with such historic figures as Ibsen, Grieg and violinist Ole Bull. Other modern-day performers due in Bergen included Swedish opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter performing with the Danish baroque ensemble Concerto Copenhagen.