Lucerne Festival to Build 'Adjustable' Opera House

Classic Arts News   Lucerne Festival to Build 'Adjustable' Opera House
The Lucerne Festival plans to build a new 1,000-seat opera house with a flexible configuration. Michael Haefliger, artistic and executive director of the Swiss classical music festival, one of Europe's most prestigious, announced the project today.

Running from mid-August to mid-September, with smaller satellite festivals at Easter and in the fall (the latter concentrating on the piano), the Lucerne Festival operates mainly in the Culture and Congress Center Lucerne, designed by architect Jean Nouvel and completed in 2000. The Center's concert hall (which opened in 1998), with acoustics by Russell Johnson and Artec Consultants, is one of the most admired modern music venues in Europe. However, while the Festival has presented (and even commissioned) operas in semi-staged concert format, it has no theater for fully staged opera, the lack of which is a major difference between Lucerne's programming and that of its peer festivals in Salzburg and Edinburgh.

Haefliger and the Festival plan to build a salle modulable (adjustable hall) — a venue whose auditorium can be set in a variety of configurations suitable for experimental music theater and chamber music as well as traditional opera. The idea was first suggested in the 1980s by composer/conductor Pierre Boulez and director Patrice Ch_reau, who had proposed an auditorium with flooring in separate, adjustable-height modules as a second venue for the Paris Opera. (The more traditionally configured Op_ra-Bastille was built instead.) Haefliger learned about, and warmed to, the salle modulable idea when discussing a new hall for Lucerne with Boulez.

"Today's opera houses often turn towards tomorrow's possibilities," said Boulez in the Festival's statement announcing the project, "and dream of no longer being restricted by today's traditional architecture characterized by long centuries of performance practice. That architecture was tailor-made for an era that is past — no matter how glorious it used to be. Wishing for a flexible hall — a 'salle modulable' — is by no means a luxury but a necessity that will liberate us from the restrictions of traditional performance sites."

(Click here for a full description of the concept for the new hall as released by the Festival today.)

The governments of the city and canton of Lucerne, working with Festival management, are in the process of locating and acquiring a site; an architectural design competition will follow, with the winning design unveiled in 2008. Construction costs, which the R‹tli Foundation has already agreed to cover, are projected to be about 100 million Swiss francs (currently about $84 million), not including land acquisition and design costs. The Salle Modulable Lucerne is expected to be complete in 2011 or 2012.

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