Iceland’s Most Popular Musical Ends its Run

Musical Níu líf at Borgarleikhúsið

The 250th show of Níu líf, a musical based on the life of singer Bubbi Morthens, will be its last. The musical has been running at Reykjavík City Theatre since early 2020 when its run was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic after only three shows.

The show follows the many public personas of Bubbi during his colourful musical career, hence the title which in English translates to Nine Lives. Director and playwright Ólafur Egill Egilsson and actor Esther Talía Casey, a married couple and collaborators in the show, were interviewed by Vísir on the occasion of the show ending.

Unexpected success

“It will be an emotional moment, that’s for sure,” Esther said. “We’ll likely cry our eyes out and shake. We’re a closely knit theatre family and we’ve faced many challenges during this time, so it will have been a rollercoaster ride.”

They say they never expected the show to be as successful as it’s been and for it to break attendance records and still be running four years after its premiere – albeit with a pandemic delaying part of its run. “We always knew that Bubbi had a special place in the nation’s heart, so we knew that his fans would show up,” Ólafur said. But we couldn’t foresee the show getting such a warm reception.”

Perfect attendance

Esther said that she’s the only cast member, including the live band, who has been at every show. She plays a number of roles, including Bubbi’s mother and Hrafnhildur, his wife. “I was lucky that every time I was sick, it was in between shows,” she said. “This show will alway have a special place in my heart.”

“It’s a story of time periods and social upheaval, of a person’s freedom to be whoever they want, finding the courage to face their destiny and stand tall in the face of challenging life experiences,” Ólafur said. “We’re very happy to have been able to cover Bubbi’s career, life, and values, while telling a story that most people can identify with.”

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Icelandic Government to Stop Funding Icelandic Opera Company

Scene from the Icelandic Opera's 2017 staging of Tosca

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.

Tjarnarbíó Theatre Will Not Have to Close This Fall

Tjarnarbíó theatre Reykjavík

Reykjavík’s leading independent theatre space Tjarnarbíó will remain open this fall thanks to the promise of additional funding from the Icelandic state and the City of Reykjavík. Tjarnarbíó Director Sara Marti Guðmundsdóttir announced last month that existing funding would not suffice to keep the theatre open and that it would close for good this September. Sara stated that authorities have promised to ensure the theatre can remain open, but have not told its staff exactly what form their support will take.

“We haven’t been told exactly how they’re going to carry it out but we have been promised that it won’t come to us having to close this fall as we assumed we would,” Sara told Vísir. The theatre was set to close this fall despite hosting a record number of theatre companies and performers and record ticket sales. The grant funding the theatre was receiving was not enough to remunerate its four full-time employees and carry out much-needed maintenance of facilities. “Because the building is so old, we keep having to spend money on things for which we shouldn’t be paying. The building and the scene itself have been neglected for an awfully long time, which is why we’ve reached this point now,” Sara stated last month.

Read More: Tjarnarbíó to Shut up Shop Without Increased Funding

Sara added that the state, city, and theatre staff will now carry out a needs assessment for the operation of independent performing arts in Iceland. She added that she is relieved at the outcome. “It was very difficult to not know before the summer vacation whether we were going to have jobs again in September. I’m extremely relieved to know, both for the sake of the staff and also the independent theatre scene as a whole.”

No More One-Metre Distancing Requirement for Seated Events

Harpa concert hall

Iceland’s Health Minister has lifted the requirement of one-metre distancing at seated events, such as concerts and performing arts events. The decision was made in consultation with the Chief Epidemiologist. Event organisers had complained that the rule was unnecessarily cumbersome and stricter than requirements in other types of venues, such as bars and restaurants.

“This is a big and important change,” Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson stated. “This changes the conditions for holding events as it will be possible to utilise all seats at events as long as there are not more than 500 people per compartment.” As previously, mask use is still required at all seated events.

Performing arts venues are still not permitted to sell alcohol during events. Some event organisers have protested that regulation, as alcohol sales are permitted at bars, clubs, and restaurants.

Additional Government Aid for Businesses and Artists

Katrín Jakobsdóttir forsætisráðherra

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says the government is working on further relief measures for companies and artists who are suffering financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vísir reports. On Friday, the government agreed to extend and increase subsidies to companies that have had to close due because of stricter virus control regulations.

See Also: COVID-19 in Iceland: Stricter Measures Take Effect in Reykjavík Area

Capital-area businesses such as gyms, bars, nightclubs, hairdressers, and tattoo studios have had to close as authorities attempt to get a recent spike in COVID infections back under control. Per the government’s decision on Friday, businesses will receive ISK 600,000 [$4,352; €3,678] for each employee, every month they have to remain closed. Katrín says this is in response to criticism of the government’s previous COVID subsidies, which primarily benefited small businesses. This new initiative would also benefit large companies as well.

See Also: Moment of (Radio) Silence for Self-Employed Musicians

Katrín estimates that if businesses have to remain closed for a month, the initiative could cost the government somewhere in the range of ISK 3-400 million [$2.22.9 million; €1.8-2.5 million]. Tourism-dependent companies obviously make up a large proportion of those that are currently suffering due to reduced international travel and closures. However, Katrín says that the government is also preparing relief packages for musicians and performing artists, the terms of which will be clarified later in the month.

East Iceland Performing Arts Centre Gets Green Light

Egilsstaðir

Construction of a new performing arts centre in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland, will begin this year, RÚV reports. The project, which includes a black box theatre and an exhibition space, will receive 60% of its funding from the state, while the National Power Company of Iceland will also be a major sponsor. The new facilities have the potential to give new life to the region’s performing arts scene.

Björn Ingimarsson, mayor of Fljótsdalshérað, hopes professional theatre companies from Reykjavík and elsewhere will bring their productions to the new stage. “What we’ve sensed from professional theatres is that this will open doors for their operations here in the area… it’s a truly exciting project.”

In 2018, the Icelandic government announced an investment of ISK 300 million ($2.8m/€2.4m) to enlarge the East Iceland Heritage Museum and build up Sláturhúsið Cultural Centre in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland. The agreement is the result of an old promise to build cultural and arts centres in all regions of the country. The federal government will fund 60% of the project, which is expected to cost around ISK 500 million ($4.7m/€4m).

The National Power Company’s investment in the project involves paying ten years of rent upfront for the new exhibition space, where it will collaborate with the municipality to create an exhibition on green energy. Björn did not divulge the exact amount that the National Power Company was contributing to the project, but said “it’s an amount that makes a difference.”

New Fund to Support Live Music Venues in Reykjavík

Húrra concert Reykjavík

Supporting small music venues is the goal of a new fund under the auspices of the City of Reykjavík. A press release on the city website states that the fund will supply grants for improving facilities, equipment, and accessibility at small and medium-sized venues and cultural centres that organise live music events. Recent years have seen the closure of many small music venues across Reykjavík, including Café Rosenberg, NASA, and Húrra to name a few.

“[The fund] contributes to the continuation of amenities for live music in the city which in turn supports the music scene and enhances daily life,” the press release reads. The fund is part of the Tónlistarborgin Reykjavík (Reykjavík Music City) project, a three-year developmental project intended to further strengthen Iceland’s capital as a centre of music by creating more supportive infrastructure for the music scene.

The application period for the fund opens on July 15 and the deadline is August 30. Application forms can be found on the city’s website.