The southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand was in the country’s cultural spotlight on Friday, when its brand new theater and concert house was finally ready to open. The so-called “Kilden i Kristiansand” now ranks as Norway’s next-largest center for the performing arts, and the only one that can compete against the Opera House in Oslo, in terms of size and price-tag.
Its grand opening performance (festforestilling) on Friday evening sold out long ago and was attracting royalty (Crown Prince Haakon) and a wide spectrum of Norwegian celebrities. The public has responded enthusiastically as well, with around 56,000 tickets for performances this year already sold. Interest has been so high that audience estimates have been raised from 100,000 to 120,000.
Kilden was built, at a cost of NOK 1.7 billion (nearly USD 300 million), primarily as a regional cultural institution for the residents of southern Norway (Sørlandet). It can become a national and international attraction, though, with non-Norwegian productions on tap and potential to attract visitors from, for example, Denmark. Ferries run all year round between Kristiansand and Denmark’s northern tip of Europe, and Kilden’s finance director envisions Danes traveling up to Kristiansand on a theater tour.
Kilden will host a production of West Side Story, premiering in February, and upcoming concerts include renowned Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performing with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and violinist Anne Sophie Mutter performing with the Trondheim Soloists.
The building itself is officially owned by the city of Kristiansand (60 percent), the counties of Vest- and Aust-Agder (25 percent and 12 percent respectively) and the city of Grimstad (3 percent). It’s been called a “people’s house” to showcase local musicians, actors and other performing artists and will be the official home of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, Agder Teater and Opera Sør.
The building also has won rave reviews for its design and location on Kristiansand’s waterfront, next to the popular Fiskebrygga (fish market). It’s the product of Finnish architectual firm ALA Architects in cooperation with SMS Arkitekter AS of Norway. It features a 1,185-seat main concert hall, a 700-seat theater, a multi-purpose auditorium with 230 seats and an “intimate” theater with just 150 seats.
“We just think it’s incredibly beautiful,” its proud managing director Bentein Baardson told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “In addition, it’s acoustically unique.”
Its price-tag and expected operating costs have sparked debate, though, and even the head of the state nationwide touring company Riksteateret, Ellen Horn, has said she’s worried. Horn, a former government minister in charge of cultural affairs, notes that many regional cultural institutions have struggled with operations and programs.
“But I have expectations that we’re getting a fantastic new performing arts center in Kristiansand,” Horn told NRK. “Kilden can be a crossroads for the entire region, as long as the public really supports it.”
Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s current minister of culture, is optimistic. She thinks ticket sales will remain strong and that there won’t be a need for commercialization.
“We had those concerns before the Opera (House in Oslo) opened, and now the problem is rather that everything is sold out there all the time,” Huitfeldt said. “I’m sure that Kilden will attract people in busloads from Stavanger and Oslo, also by boat from Denmark.”
The opening night performance will feature the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, the choir from the local cathedral, several other local choirs and dance groups and an ensemble from the upcoming production of West Side Story.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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