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Norwegians Come on Foot to ‘World’s First’ Drive-In Opera

September 25, 1989

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ The Norwegian National Opera tried to bring 19th century arias to the masses this weekend with a drive-in performance. Many viewers, mostly on foot, found opera loud but hard to see.

A 225-square-foot movie screen dangled from a crane above Oslo’s Youngstorget marketplace for what was billed as the world’s first drive-in opera.

Broadcast images of the opera’s live Saturday night performance from its regular theater were dim, but stacks of loudspeakers blasted the normally quiet city center with crisp arias.

″It started as a crazy notion but we went ahead anyway,″ said state opera spokesman Terje Baskerud. It was inspired by U.S. drive-in movies, which are unknown in Norway, he said.

″We want people to know that opera can be fun,″ Baskerud said of choosing one act from the 19th century comedy ″The Barber of Seville″ for the experiment.

The opera hoped 1950s Americana will help it shed a high-brow image and appeal to a broader public through the free, one night drive-in. Sponsors paid the $28,000 cost.

Several operas in the U.S. and elsewhere asked to be kept informed of the results, Baskerud said.

Drive-in movie theaters are as foreign to most Norwegians as opera. Police estimated there was room for 250 cars in the closed-off marketplace. About 70 cars parked, many facing away from screen.

Unsure of drive-in etiquette, ″one lady asked if she was allowed to get out of her car,″ said Baskerud.

Most of the roughly 1,300 people who passed through the square came on foot, often leading dogs or carrying children. A core of about 300 stayed through the 90-minute first act, politely applauding the screen.

Some sat in chairs lined up on a truck’s cargo bed. Nearby, limousine passengers sipped champagne.

The second act proved too dark for television and plans to have waitresses on rollerskates serve hamburgers also proved impossible, Baskerud said.

″It’s wonderful,″ said Lillian Ingerbretsen, 48, an opera fan. ″The screen was dark ... but now people will buy tickets to a performance just to see what it is really like,″ she said.

Baskerud admitted picture problems but said ″sound was perfect and that’s what counts ... Next time, we will have a performance lighted for television.″

Morten Kristoffersen, 16, who paused, looked and walked on, said, ″Great idea but it’s hard to see ... I don’t think I’ll be going to the opera anytime soon.″

But Baskerud said ticket sales to regular performances boomed during the drive-in. The opera, founded in 1957, already averages 90 percent bookings for 200 shows a year in its home, a cramped former movie theater, he said.

The 1,119-tickets for the premiere had been sold out, yet when the curtain rose in the opera house many seats were empty.

″More than a third of the ticket holders stayed outside to watch the drive-in, then came in for the second act,″ he said.

The Italian-language performance of Rossini’s ″Barber of Seville″, first performed in 1816, was directed by Michael Hampe of the Cologne Opera, and conducted by Italian Carlo Felice Cillareo.

Iziar Martinez Galdos, a Spanish resident of Norway, sang the female lead Rosina, the Scottish opera’s Neill Archer sang Count Almaviva and Norway’s Trond Halstein Moe performed Figaro, with support from the opera’s other 26 singers, 42-member chorus and 75-piece orchestra.