Opera’s new ‘Peer Gynt’ draws mixed reviews

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Critics weren’t exactly giving standing ovations to the Norwegian Opera & Ballet’s new version of the classic Henrik Ibsen play Peer Gynt. It premiered over the weekend after weeks of speculation that production problems could keep the curtain from going up.

Opera officials angrily rejected the media speculation of possible delays, especially by state broadcaster NRK, and reacted by running full-page ads in local papers advertising “an entirely new opera with an entirely new Peer!” It opened as scheduled on Saturday.

Estonian composer Juri Reinvere was asked to create the music for the new opera and write a new libretto for Ibsen’s screenplay. That has stirred controversy, given the artistic license Reinvere gave himself to also change the story behind Ibsen’s work.

The reviews weren’t great: Aftenposten claimed the new Peer Gynt character lacks humor and that the entire opera simply didn’t appeal to the soul in a way that would make it relevant. Reinvere’s new Peer “lacks a major portion of the old Peer’s appeal,” wrote Aftenposten, fretting that the new Peer perhaps needed to simply do more lying, as he’s accused of doing in the opening act of Ibsen’s play.

Others criticized the music, with newspaper Dagsavisen describing it as “heavy as lead,” while the staging and special effects won kudos. It’s always risky for anyone to re-invent such classic theater and its equally classic music by Norwegian Edvard Grieg. As one critic wrote, “opera can often involve ignoring bad acting to hear fine music. In this Peer Gynt, it’s the opposite.”

Opera chief Per Boye Hansen was praised for being brave enough to commission a new opera version of Peer Gynt, in the year in which Norway was celebrating its bicentennial. “Now we’re lucky to have a completely new Peer Gynt,” director Sigrid Strøm Reibo told Dagsavisen. “Those who expect to hear Grieg’s music and see an Ibsen-ish Peer Gynt are in for a big surprise.”

newsinenglish.no staff