Power of three at The Göteborg Opera

Adventurous mainstage productions, an experimentation lab for composers, and imaginative outreach: new artistic director Stephen Langridge is taking a holistic approach at The Göteborg Opera. 

Next year The Göteborg Opera will stage the classic Hitchcock thriller Notorious. The 1946 movie starred Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as secret agents who fall in love against the dramatic backdrop of World War II Germany. Swedish composer Hans Gefors is the man charged with bringing the story to the operatic stage. With Swedish author and dramatist Kerstin Perski on board as librettist, and Keith Warner as director, the famed soprano Nina Stemme will sing the lead role.

It’s a production that neatly characterises Stephen Langridge’s vision for The Göteborg Opera. Taking up the role of artistic director from the 2013-14 season, the Englishman plans to produce bold, striking opera that stands out on the international stage, but that also supports and cultivates Swedish talent.

‘I’ve been a freelance director for my whole career,’ Langridge says. ‘And my work has been divided into three strands – directing; leading and developing educational outreach initiatives for operas; and making new work with composers and lyricists.’

The position in Gothenburg provides the ideal opportunity to unite these approaches into one core company ethos, explains Langridge. He is pursuing a holistic way of working, where these three areas of the opera company influence and affect each other.

‘Coming here gives me the chance to work with artists and composers for a much longer period of time than being the freelance gun,’ Langridge says. ‘I also want to build up a dynamic participation and engagement programme. And thirdly, I’ll be developing an experimentation lab for composers and librettists.’

The Göteborg Opera already has in place an effective and far-reaching participation programme, which Langridge wants to continue and build upon. Among the current initiatives are The Göteborg Opera Children’s Choir; Storytelling in the Foyer; and Unga för unga [By the young for the young].

‘Our watchwords are creativity and opportunity,’ he says. ‘We want to give young people, but not exclusively young people, access to the house’s artistic and technical resources. It’s also about artists making new work with people in the community.’

Stephen Langridge © Joakim Hovrevik
Stephen Langridge © Joakim Hovrevik

‘Opera and musical theatre is a vital force,’ continues Langridge. ‘Far from being exclusive, it provides a way for people to respond to situations and allows them to talk about their feelings and the world around them in a natural way. So rather than create a programme that teaches people about opera, this programme will encourage people to experiment.’

What has been Langridge’s experience of the Gothenburg audience thus far – are they willing to experiment? ‘Audiences are constantly surprising, the moment you think you’ve got the measure of them, you’re finished,’ he says. ‘It’s certainly not a snobby audience, that’s not how things are done here in Gothenburg. They’re very keen on trying new things and giving it a go.’

The company’s central audience is middle-aged, admits Langridge, as in many cities. ‘But Gothenburg is a multicultural city. It’s also full of students, there are lots of rock festivals! So it’s not about persuading young people that they need to come to the opera, it’s about keying into some of the energy that’s here, and investigating how we can stage cross-genre work.’

Photo: La Cage Aux Folles will run on the mainstage until March 2014 © Mats Bäcker