The Icelandic government is planning to establish a national opera company to start operations in 2025 and will consequently stop funding the Icelandic Opera. The company’s director has described the decision as a cultural disaster and says that without public funding, the Icelandic Opera will have to cease operations. Iceland’s Minister of Culture says the decision has been a long time coming.
The Icelandic Opera was established in the late 1970s and is the only professional opera company in Iceland. It has produced over 85 operas since its foundation and since 2011 its home venue has been Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. The Icelandic Opera is a not-for-profit company but it receives public funding as well as corporate sponsorship. Last year public funding to the Icelandic Opera amounted to ISK 216 million [$1.64 million, €1.5 million].
Decision a long time coming
The Ministry of Culture and Trade has established three working groups to do the groundwork for establishing a national opera company in Iceland and has informed the Icelandic Opera that it will cease its funding contributions to the company after 2024. Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir stated that the decision to stop funding the company should not come as a surprise, as the government has long talked of reviewing the current arrangement and founding a national opera company. Lilja stated that the Icelandic Opera would receive a total of ISK 334 million [$2.53 million, €2.3 million] in funding this year and next year in order to be able to fulfil its obligations.
Cultural appropriation and wage disputes
The Icelandic Opera made headlines earlier this year when its staging of Madama Butterfly was accused of reinforcing racist stereotypes. In 2020, Icelandic opera singer Þóra Einarsdóttir sued the company, claiming they underpaid her and several other singers for their work in a 2019 production. In 2020, Iceland’s government also appointed a committee to begin researching the possibility of founding a national opera.