Ministry announces plans for cultural building

  • 2006-09-07
  • By Joel Alas

CITY GEM: Tallinn's historical Estonian National Opera is a defining characteristic of the capital city.

TALLINN - The Ministry of Culture has announced plans for the construction of a new landmark cultural building in Tallinn, most likely an opera house.

The ministry said it would ask the City of Tallinn to set aside a plot of land near the Kumu Art Museum in Kadriorg, a suburb of Tallinn.

No timeline or budget has been fixed for the project, and questions about the facility's necessity and expense have already begun to surface.

The city's current opera house, the Estonian National Opera, boasts a grand concert hall and a three-tiered theater, and was recently remodeled at a cost of over 200 million kroons. The historic building is popular among tourists and locals alike and remains in constant use.

Tallinners often boast that their city has the largest number of theaters per capita in the world. Such a claim is difficult to verify, but Tallinn is nevertheless home to over 15 theaters of various sizes.

Ministry spokeswoman Katrin Arvisto said it was important to set aside land for the project, even if there was no immediate need for the facility.

And although an opera house was the most mooted use for the project, the Ministry has insisted on referring to a "large cultural object."

The idea has been on the agenda since 2003, when the Ministry asked a committee of experts to chose an ideal location for such an object.

Four locations were considered, including the Kadriorg site and a plot near Tallinn's harbor. While the harbor site has not been ruled out, Arvisto said the ministry felt it would be wise to set aside the Kadriorg location before any other building was constructed there.

However other projects, such as the building of the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, remain a higher priority for the ministry, she said. There was even the possibility that an opera house might be included in the design for the new Tallinn City Hall, she added.

The chair of the Estonian Theater Union and board member of the Estonian National Opera, Rein Oja, believes a new opera house is necessary. "The problem is that the current opera house is built like a drama theater," Oja said. "It was built in 1913, and the needs of an opera house then were different. The stage is too small, and the orchestra pit has been rebuilt but it still needs to be bigger. To do a classical opera, there is simply not enough space."

Oja added, "We have many theaters here in Tallinn, but most of them are drama theaters, and our one big hall, the Linnahall, can seat 4,000 people but is used for different projects than opera. Building a new opera house will be expensive, and we will have to find a way to pay for it, but it is necessary."