Copenhagen Opera

Right from the start, I have to confess that the Opera is not my favourite modern building in Copenhagen. Designed by Henning Larsen Architects and opened in 2005 it has seemed to me, and I think to many, to be too large and too dominant in its position on the harbour on the axis of the Royal Palace. There is a fine line between being dramatic and being overbearing.

But I have to say that views from the ferry looking up at the great bow of the glass front, particularly if light is reflecting up off the water, is actually very dramatic and beautiful and the profile - the side elevation viewed straight on is, I admit, very elegant for such a large building and no one can question the quality of the materials or the quality of the workmanship.

Even inside, from what I had seen, I thought that the entrance area, with the curving and stacked walkways flying across the phenomenal space, is beautiful and dramatic particularly at night but even during the day and again particularly when sunlight is reflected up off the water.

I’m not sure if I would go as far as to say that I am warming to the building … it may be that seeing it most days it is becoming so familiar that I don’t notice the bulk and scale … but two things suggest I might actually have to reassess my feelings.

First, with the new bridge over the harbour, when seen from the south, the gentle arch of the south side of the bridge picks up the angle of the underside of the roof of the opera house and acts almost like a stage flat creating a better buildup to the profile of the opera house. This effect of improving the sense of perspective and the relationship of volumes and scale will have to be a major consideration when and if there are proposals to rebuild on the site of the paper warehouses or to develop the large open areas that immediately flank the opera house. 

The second thing that has made me look afresh at the building was actually getting into the auditorium itself for the first time on Kultur Natten. Obviously some people will accuse me of being unfair, judging a building without having been inside the most important space, but to be fair to me, I had deliberately not written about the building on this site while I could only judge it in terms of planning and its urban setting.

As part of the evening’s events for Kultur Natten, the doors of the opera house were thrown open. An orchestra had been moved up from the pit onto the stage and with children brought in to play alongside professional musicians. Singers performed and explained their work and the work of the opera house. The shape of the space with the sweep of the unbroken circles of seating and the heavy use of wood gives a superb effect of being in the hull of a great wooden ship and the stage itself and the back-stage area is enormous so I suppose that it is hardly surprising that the building itself is so large. And with people wandering in and out; with the enthusiastic performance; with the enthusiastic audience and with the staff friendly and relaxed for this open house, the building came alive. 

October 2015