The Slovenia Times

The Opera is Back



The original theatre was built in 1892, its neo-Renaissance design dreamed up by Czech architects Jan V. Hrasky and Anton Hruby. Initially the venue hosted productions of French and Italian operas. But after 1918, when the opera orchestra was formed, Slovenian and Slavic opera pieces started to take centre stage. Between the wars many successful operas from Slovenian composers like Kogoj, Osterc and Bravničar were hosted in the venue. 1918 also saw the establishment of a professional ballet ensemble in Ljubljana - a fixture on the Slovenian theatre scene ever since.
Over the humps
The magnificent old theatre is a landmark, with a richly adorned front façade with Ionic columns and numerous allegorical sculptures. But it has long needed renovation - and indeed the process of renovation has been a long one. The works started in 2006 and were due to end in 2008. The reality, however, is that the building has been closed for nearly six years thanks to a host of unforeseen problems, including underground water. As is depressingly familiar for Slovenian projects, the main problem was uneconomical management of finances - the spend exceeded the initial plans by more than a third, reaching EUR 43m - and poor planning of the entire project. Mitja Bervar, SNG Opera and Ballet director, says the issue was in part due to "the global recession, which altered plans. Many companies involved in the project went bankrupt, including the two construction giants Vegrad and SCT and a number of small and mid-sized subcontractors. The renovation which actually started 14 years ago with a public call for tenders occupied six ministers and three directors which also contributed to the lengthiness of the project."

Beautiful both inside and out

But at last it is complete. From the outside, the renovated opera house building is a blend of the old and the new, designed by the architects Jurij Kobe and Matjaž Zupanc. The façade retains its classical glamorous old looks while the back of the building hosts a huge black modern extension.
"One of the most important developments is the five practice rooms for ensembles," says Bervar. "We lacked these in the past even though they are crucial for artists' normal functioning." Another great new facility is a very modern and technically well-equipped stage. Again, in Bervar's opinion this is a must for contemporary productions of ballet and opera: "In this respect we can now compare our opera and ballet house to other similar institutions in other European countries." New are also socialising spaces on the ground floor and in the basement while the entire hall has been enlarged and refurbished; its capacities are now 565 seats plus additional. Better too are the acoustics - for artists as well as audience.
The grand opening on 20 December did not offer a premiere, but instead a performance of six acts from the second part of Verdi's Aida and some ballet performances. The premiere will come in the future, says Bervar: "A new Slovenian opera 'Love Capital of Jani Golob' has been planned for this occasion for many years now, but since the reopening kept being postponed over and over again, we made a decision some time ago that the premiere would take place in October 2012 when we were sure the renovation would be finished."

Bringing back the audience

According to Bervar, the repertoire for this season aims at a broader audience: "Opera in Slovenia is very well accepted, but still we need to make an effort and bring back the audience which in these six years perhaps got used to the fact that opera did not really exist." Hence in 2012 opera and ballet enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the famous Nabucco, Traviata, La Boeme, Rusalka and a new Giselle, while the highlight will be Black Masks.
The theatre may at last be reopened but there are still small tasks being completed over the next six months. But as Bervar says: "The most important thing is that the people feel the theatre and keep returning to it." Judging from the 500 season tickets sold in the first two weeks since reopening, it's mission accomplished on that front.


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