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When in Scandinavia, dress down

June 27, 2009 | 10:00 am


What to wear?
These days in the most sophisticated cities just about anything goes at the symphony or opera, just so long as it’s not jacket and a necktie. A couple of years ago at the Paris Opera I quickly ditched my tie when I realized that only rubes wore them with their suits or sport coats in this stylish audience. A necktie, I was told, is a good way to attract pickpockets.

There are, of course, still formality holdouts. A tux or long gown remains de rigueur for opera at Britain’s Glyndebourne, and festival goers still dress in Salzburg, Austria, and Bayreuth, Germany. But you also see a lot more fashion mavericks at these places than you did a decade ago.

Still, Scandinavia seems to be a leader in concert and opera informality. On a recent trip, which I write about in Sunday’s Calendar, I found jeans common at the Swedish Royal Opera, Norwegian Opera and Royal Danish Opera. The occasional shorts could be spotted at the Gothenburg Symphony for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem and at the new Copenhagen Concert House, where Esa-Pekka Salonen was conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London.

DSCN2497 Fashion has so flipped-flopped that a few unself-conscious women wore flip-flops to a performance of Wagner’s "Tristan and Isolde" in Copenhagen, and probably were more comfortable for it, given how little air-conditioning the environmentally conscious Scandinavians employ.

That doesn’t mean you won’t also find suited businessmen and women. Nor does dress necessarily indicate behavior. A well put-together Danish couple sitting next to me at “Tristan,” for instance, displayed appalling manners. The man, obviously bored, texted throughout the first and second acts and thankfully didn’t return for the third. Meanwhile, a nearby fellow in tight designer jeans, T-shirt and sneakers sat transfixed.

It’s not, obviously, what you wear but how you wear it, and how you act.

-- Mark Swed

Photos: At top, the audience at the opening night of a new production of Strauss' "Elektra" at the Oslo Opera House. At bottom, a man in shorts attends a performance by London's Philharmonia Orchestra at the new Copenhagen Concert Hall.  Both events took place at the beginning of June.  Credit: Mark Swed/Los Angeles Times