Royal fanfare opens Bergen festival

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With Oslo in the midst of the lavish and commercial Eurovision Song Contest, Bergen stuck to tradition and officially opened its annual Bergen International Festival (Festspillene) on Wednesday. King Harald and Queen Sonja dodged downpours to perform their royal honors.

King Harald (second from left) and Queen Sonja (in white cloak) were protected from the rain in Bergen by a tent pitched for the outdoor event. PHOTO: Festspillene

Bergen has hosted a festival of Nordic art at the beginning of summer since 1953. Despite having a more sedate image than Oslo’s  Eurovision Song Contest this week, the Bergen International Festival also has a few surprises in store for its audiences.

The black metal musical “Svartediket” may be an all-time first. Diners may also have their meals interrupted by sudden musical performances in local restaurants.

Naval officers using a car roof as a percussion instrument was featured in one of the opening concerts. The Bergen International Festival contains music, literature, theatre, dance, opera and visual art.

Organizers claim the festival is the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries, with more than 150 events in 15 days. They consider Bergen to be Norway’s culture capital and “home to a progressive musical scene, several theatres and a professional ballet ensemble.”

Bergen has its own philharmonic orchestra and Henrik Ibsen once ran the city’s main theatre, Den Nationale Scene. The theatre has been in the limelight recently as a result of publicity linked to the black metal opera Svartediket, literally “the black pond,” which tells stories of infanticide in old Bergen. That the lead singer condoned church burning earlier this year only adds to the controversy surrounding the performance.

A circus in the Grieg Hall and stunt performances by musicians in restaurants will, however, help put Bergen in a more festive mood.

The festival is the main annual event to promote Bergen and western Norway. It gets half its income from national, regional and local government. Some 20 per cent of the budget come from ticket sales, while the remainder is money from commercial sponsors.

A total of 60,000 tickets are available every year, two thirds for indoor events and the rest outdoors. The biggest indoor venue is the Grieg Hall which seats 1,500 guests.  Events such as the concert in Grieg’s home Trollhaugen seat only 200 guests.

The previously victorious local soccer team Brann is doing badly in its league, so Bergen could use the festival to strengthen its normally healthy self-esteem.

For more information about the festival, click here.

For more information about Bergen, go to www.visitbergen.com.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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