The Copenhagen Opera House was controversial long before it opened last year. From the moment shipping magnate Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller announced his gift to the city, residents questioned both the location and Henning Larsen’s design, famously christened the “Toaster.” Unfortunately most of its critics will never see the exemplary back-of-house spaces, particularly the orchestra rehearsal room, which has a lighting scheme that raises the space above its subterranean condition.
“When we got involved in the project there was no connection to daylight or the real world in the rehearsal room,” says lighting designer Jonathan Speirs, whose firm, Speirs and Major Associates, recently won Europe’s FX Award for the project. Inspired by the way natural light changes the gallery conditions in Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum, Speirs created the illusion of a clerestory with fluorescent tubes connected to a photocell that respond to outdoor conditions. “At lunchtime it’s going to be fairly bright, but by six o’clock at night the fluorescent lights will have dimmed and slowly faded out so you get a sense of what’s happening outside,” he says. “It was an effort to think about the physiological and psychological effects on the musicians incarcerated in this box underground.”