The Mærsk Opera
The Mærsk Opera
An old Danish way of saying tells that the one who pays for the music also decides what is being played. The construction of the new Opera House in Copenhagen ended as a nightmare for architect Henning Larsen. The Maersk Opera by Anders Monrad, Nikolaj Heltoft and SUPERFLEX dive into the nightmare unrolling the relationship between the privileged individual, his company and the surrounding community – exemplified by the story of the Opera House creation.
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The Mærsk Opera
by Adrian Hughes, tv and radio presenter
When completed in October 2004, the drama behind the building of the Copenhagen Opera House was enthusiastically included amongst the fascinating tales of the landmarks of the Danish Capital. Right across the harbour from the Opera you find Saly’s equestrian statue, which took 19 years to erect and costed more than all of Amalienborg’s four palaces. Further down the same axis thrones the Marble Church, which rested as a grass tufted romantic ruin for 130 years, until a finance tycoon bought the plot for one Danish crown and completed it.
The Opera was the octogenarian shipping magnate Mærsk McKinney-Møller’s last and most spectacular bid at creating an aweinspiring monument over his and his father’s entrepreneurial legacy. He was accustomed to unhindered access to the varying Danish prime ministers, and having secured the government’s acceptance of his donation he expected the people’s representatives to stand back and let him get on with the job. After 35 years as the CEO of what under his guidance had become the world’s largest shipping company Mr. Møller found it appropriate to display this might by presenting a gift to the people of Denmark in materials that would last for centuries. Glass was not included in such materials.
Likewise, the edifice was the septuagenarian architect Henning Larsen’s final opportunity for erecting a convincing example of his ephemeral vision of humanistic, translucent and all-inviting architecture in the Danish capital. Mr. Larsen’s first sketch for the opera was a glass house encapsulating a glowing warm nucleus of acorn wood symbolising the music box inside it.
The public only had vague inklings of the tremen-dous clash between Mr. Møller’s penchant for marble and bricks and Mr. Larsen’s transparent vison of glass. The conflict became obvious when Mr. Møller called a press conference presenting the compromise facade of steel ribbons without the presence of Mr. Larsen.
Mr. Larsen had teetered on the edge of leaving the project entirely, only staying on facing a devastating law suit otherwise. Mr. Larsen later told his story in-cluding many unimaginable histrionics, which has so far prompted a book, a stage play and now an opera. The relations between the two shockingly stead-fast geriatrics deteriorated beyond belief. At the final meeting Mr. Larsen read out a letter from himself to Mr. Møller to have it included in the minutes. This let-ter was evidently more a message in a bottle to eternity than an exchange between a builder and his architect. The shipping magnate’s knuckles were white with rage, and Mr. Larsen quotes him for the rant: “I gave you everything! I gave you an unnecessary roof, I gave you extravagant canals, I gave you costly bridges! You should say ‘Thank You’!”
Mr. Møller was born in 1913, and architectural inclinations have since developed considerably. Unfortunately, Mr. Møller’s contributions to the design of the Opera has made his gift to the Danish people more an example of the might of money than proof of the aesthetics of art. Which is sad, as it still represents one of the most vastly generous donations to Danish society … since Saly’s equestrian statue and the Marble Church.
Mr. Larsen denounced his own architectural achievement with a brief summary of the process: “All in all I’m very satisfied with the result, if you disregard the facade.”