After working throughout Europe for 30 years, Per Boye Hansen has come home to Oslo as the newly appointed director of the Norwegian National Opera. But in truth, Hansen never really left. He kept a house and raised a family in Oslo while working for, among others, Cologne's Opera House, Berlin's Komische Oper and the Bergen International Festival.
"I live in the west of the city, near the forest that surrounds Oslo. In the winter I can go cross-country skiing from my back door. We have a small stream in our back yard and more than 40 birds nest in the area and we're only 10 minutes by tube from the city centre. I think that's quite unique."
Despite coming from a musical family (his father was a professional violinist), Hansen became a journalist and expended a lot of energy trying to cover stories in places where he could also visit the opera, before realising he was in the wrong career.
One of Hansen's favourite memories from his early musical career was in Salzburg, when he was assisting the famous stage director, Jean Pierre-Ponnelle, in a production of Mozart's Idomeneo: "It was an overwhelming meeting of the best of the best in opera, almost all of them now gone: Pavarotti in the lead role alongside Tatjana Trojanos, Lucia Popp and Elizabeth Connell. The opening night party at Pavarotti's house was, for a 25-year-old Norwegian, an almost unreal experience."
Hansen believes there has been a massive shift in opera in the last 30 years; it's now more open and accessible. For Hansen, nowhere is this more evident than in Oslo, where the stunning opera house in downtown Bjørvika brilliantly symbolises cutting edge contemporary culture.
Like a glacier rising up out of the fjord, this monument to culture is impressive but accessible. Since it opened in 2008, the public have been able to walk on and over the building and on a summer's day sunbathers stretch out on the white marble surface while rehearsals take place behind huge windows. The structure descends gradually into the water, but there is a refreshing lack of handrails and barriers. This is Hansen's new office.
"The building of the opera house has been a revolution" he says. "We have doubled our audience in just a couple of years. It's actually one of the most visited places in the entire country. We have a very open house that includes children's projects and free concerts."
The building's unusual form reflects the local audience, which Hansen describes as "unique".
"We probably have the shortest opera history in the whole of Europe. Our company was only founded in 1969 so our audience is not so conservative, not so influenced by the past."
As an example of this, Hansen points to last year's staging of Alban Berg's opera Lulu - a work that challenges musical conventions in both score and subject. The opera house staged 10 performances and a hall that seats 1,350 was 90% full. "Most houses would never schedule 10 performances of an opera like that. We take the freedom the people give us and try to open up new insights."
A modern art form for a city that, in Hansen's lifetime, has become strikingly modern itself. "Oslo has gone through remarkable development, we have become a multicultural society. When I was a kid it was very homogeneous; now you can see influences from all over the world. The area of Grønland is a good example; the quarters north of Central Station are crowded with international shops and restaurants. It's like a small Manhattan."
As the demands of his new job allow Hansen little free time, he is thankful his office in Bjørvika has become such a hub. He describes the Sanguine Brasserie in the opera house as having the best views in town. When he does escape the workplace, Hansen gravitates towards the Theatercafeen in Oslo's Continental Hotel, next to the National Theatre. Back by the water, Solsiden, a restaurant in the quay by Akershus Castle is where Hansen would choose to spend a summer's evening.
Not that there will be many lazy summer evenings for Hansen now: "In some ways it's a terrible job and in others it's wonderful. The organisation required is huge, but it's extremely rewarding because, often unexpectedly, you experience miracles on stage. It's a very special place to work."
See operaen.no for details of the 2012/2013 opera season in Oslo