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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Ministry tunes out Flagstad prize

Organizers of an annual festival in honor of Norway’s pioneering opera singer Kirsten Flagstad wanted to draw extra attention to it by awarding a NOK 2.5 million prize in her name to opera superstar Placido Domingo. But there’s a problem: They don’t have the money, and the government isn’t willing to help out.

Kirsten Flagstad was Norway's pioneering opera star, but the state won't fund a new prize in her name. PHOTO: National Archives

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Domingo had been told of the prize and agreed to come to Norway next year to accept it. But according to DN, he changed his plans after learning that there won’t be any prize money.

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) was a Norwegian soprano who gained international fame, particularly for her interpretations of Wagner. Her first appearance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1935 was called “sensational” and she later became the first head of The Norwegian Opera.

A statue of her greets visitors to Oslo’s Opera House, and for the past seven years, a festival in her honor has been held in her hometown of Hamar. Festival organizers led by former opera chief Bjørn Simensen reportedly have wanted the event to gain more international recognition, and decided they could achieve that by handing famed tenor Placido Domingo a prize called “The Kirsten Flagstad Life Achievement Memorial Prize.”

According to DN, the festival asked Norway’s Ministry of Culture in April for a NOK 2.5 million contribution plus another half-million to cover “administrative costs.” Then they broke the news to Domingo early, so he could fit a visit to Hamar into his busy schedule in June 2013, the 100th anniversary of Flagstad’s debut at Norway’s own National Theatre.

Placido Domingo had accepted the proposed Flagstad prize, but now won't be collecting it after all. PHOTO: Wikipedia

But last month, Norway’s government minister in charge of cultural issues, Anniken Huitfeldt, rejected the funding request. The ministry is known to be restrictive in sponsoring new prizes like this one and state secretary Kjersti Stenseng told DN that NOK 3 million “is a lot of money, and we think that a one-off prize is not the best way to honor Kirsten Flagstad.”

Stenseng also said the ministry can’t be held responsible for the festival’s decision to hand out a prize and inform the winner before the money had materialized.

Simensen told Dagens Næringsliv that he’s sorry the festival didn’t get the state money needed to award the prize. They’re also sorry Domingo won’t be attending next year’s event.

“We decided to inform Placido Domingo before we had the funds because we strongly believed this would work,” Simensen told DN. “Domingo has to plan so far ahead that there was no time or opportunity to follow regular procedure.”

Simensen claimed that in awarding the prize, the organizers also “wanted to lift Kirsten Flagstad up alongside our national icons like Holberg, Abel, Ibsen, Grieg and Munch. She was as big in her universe as they were in theirs.” In the end, the festival’s prize proposal was simply too pricey.

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