Not surprisingly given that Norway furnishes Trafalgar Square's Christmas tree every year, its capital has a fair share of illuminated firs - no less than seven that I saw outside and within the National Theatre (pictured above, National Opera below the first photo) when I began my Peer Gynt foray for The Arts Desk with a lunchtime performance of Ibsen's flexible epic as adapted by brilliant director Alexander Mørk-Eidem.
I think I've assembled all the details necessary for the big piece, but frustratingly I can't find anything much online about the building or its marvellous collection of portraits beyond the fact that it was the work of Henrik Bull and opened in 1899 with a festive programme which included Ibsen's An Enemy of the People on the first two nights, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Sigurd Jorsalfar on the third. If we know the latter at all, it's through Grieg's heart-of-oak Homage March. So it's odd to see the statues of the two men flanking the building in equal stature. Ibsen's the one we recognise, of course.
The handsome lobby has the fifth tree.
Should have gone round the foyer spaces and staircases during the interval with my notebook, left inside the auditorium. The statue here is of early-ish Ibsen heroine Hjørdis.
Of the actresses featured, I can only tell you that this is Liv Ullmann - I failed to note the artist -
and though I identified a few playwrights and actors, I picture knowingly only a fine portrait of the Master, on loan from the National Gallery I loved so much on my first visit earlier in the year.
Otherwise, all I can do you are people and portraits, the former a very mixed bunch as the matinee was full of school groups, lively and vocal around the performance, extremely attentive during it - as how could they not be, given such a stunning and lively show.
Curiously none of the production pics shows the controversial painting which forms the backdrop for this Peer Gynt's devastating coup, corresponding to the storm for Peer's homecoming in the original. Norwegian-based Vanessa Baird's To Everything There is a Season caused a storm in the wake of the Breivik attacks in the city and on Utøya island, despite the fact that the toppling buildings and falling paper had been painted before it. Debate continues as to whether it should continue to hang in a public space, so all credit to Mørk-Eidem for making it part of his commentary on the point at which Norway could never be the same again. There's a reproduction of part of the original canvas over on the Arts Desk.
Who knows what Ibsen would have thought of that? I hope he would have welcomed only one of many approaches to his endlessly fascinating myth. This time I got, as originally intended, to the House-Museum, which I've also written about in the Arts Desk piece. Two peripheral pleasures I didn't mention, or expand upon, were the tiles in the gents' loo, including Ibsen's specimens of handwriting,
and another tree or shrub of sorts for the natural ecosystem in Old Ekdahl's loft in The Wild Duck as realised by artist Lucie Noel Thune, who's been a friendly correspondent since my visit.
Only when close up do you realise it's constructed of hundreds of duck eggs. A nice complement to the real wild duck wandering the black glass box of my year's theatrical highlight, Belvoir Sydney's production - another wonderful adaptation - of that great and ambiguous play.
Jüri Reinvere's opera, the premiere of which I saw at the National Opera the following night, makes more explicit reference to the Breivik attacks at the same point as Mørk-Eidem does in his production of the play. Here Peer imagines he takes the Troll King's 'be yourself - and to hell to the rest of the world' to its natural, Breivikian extreme of indiscriminate shooting. The music there is at its most powerful, so I bought it as most of Oslo, apparently less interested in the score than in the situation, has not. I had reservations about some of the work, but I respect Jüri's right to treat it from his own unique perspective. I've met him twice - once through Berlin critic Jan Brachmann, when he came to the local cafe, and a second time after I'd seen the play - informally, not for an interview, though it was helpful to have his perspective in mind.
Then it was off to a splendid theatrical happening rivalling the play Peer Gynt, all thanks to this intriguing screen I saw as I was passing the Norwegian Theatre.
The result was even more amazing than I'd expected, a Hamlet like no other inhabiting a unique world - more about it over on the Arts Desk piece.
There remained only the event for which I'd been invited back to Oslo in the first place. Audience members were invited to a post-show party in the foyer on the first night of the operatic Peer Gynt only to find they had to listen to the speeches without a drink in hand unless anyone had bought one: that's a first for me. Anyway, there was always the tree in the splendid foyer - which I wrote about in my first Arts Desk piece on Oslo - to feast on.
The Thursday of my arrival (at midnight) was one of those crazy excursions I occasionally indulge in. That meant catching a morning train to Birmingham for a lunchtime pre-performance talk for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before Andris Nelson's afternoon concert of Schumann's Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough and Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, the main thrust of my talk (though I started with Schumann's Rhenish opening as the example of a more usual sort of symphonic start). In a tight schedule, the rehearsal had only just finished when I came on to the concert platform for a brief sound check - and there was Andris discussing a point with CBSO leader Laurence Jackson.
He and Stephen were as friendly as I'd expected from the few words we exchanged. Also had a good chat with my main inviter and now, I hope, friend Richard Bratby who organises the talks; I'll be sorry to see him go early next year but the good thing is that he may be freed up to review CBSO concerts, inter alia, for The Arts Desk. Sadly I couldn't even stay for the first half of the concert as I'd left my passport at home, which in the end meant only a brief excursion before going on to Gatwick for the Oslo flight.. I'd like to have spent longer in Birmingham not only for that but also because the Christmas Fairl there seemed so jolly.
All I had time for was a ridiculously large plate of fried onion flower which caught surprised comments as I stood dipping it in garlic mayonnaise.
Then off to the train, and on to two and a half days in Oslo which were as gloomy as the weather in Birmingham, and of course much colder, with no more than a dusting of the snow which had made the first visit such fun. I can at least say I've seen the sun in that city, if only on rising at 9.30am - as I know from Iceland in January, it's the mornings which remain dark for so long - in my hotel room on the 32nd floor, looking east to the hills
and south to the Opera House and the harbour.
Anyway, we're sitting tight for once over Christmas itself, maybe off for a bit in the New Year. Happy holidays to all, with a final tree, or rather shrub, greeting: for the first time ever, camellia Debbie in the back yard has flowered unseasonably early, allowing me to display it alongside a couple of our Indian hand-painted Santas. An e-card on the same theme will be reaching those whose addresses I've not been able to track down.