Skip to main content
To KTH's start page To KTH's start page

Opera in Reactor Hall a great success

Unander-Scharin imitates robot King´s dance moves on the stage floor, robot Queen to the left.
The robots Queen (left) and King (right) on the stage floor in the Reactor Hall at KTH, with one of the two artistic directors, Åsa Unander-Scharin, imitating King’s dance moves. Photo: Magnus Glans.
Published Feb 15, 2023

Seventeen sold-out performances in the Reactor Hall in December. Amazing reviews. KTH’s opera, The Tale of the Great Computing Machine, was a great success with audiences and the media alike.

Handberg on the stage floor in the Reactor Hall, with robot Queen to the left.
Handberg on the stage floor in the Reactor Hall, with robot Queen to the left. Photo: Magnus Glans.

Leif Handberg, Associate Professor in Media Technology, manager of the Reactor Hall and Project Manager for the production, says that media attention for the show has been bigger that he could dare to have hoped. The opera received good reviews in all of Sweden’s major newspapers, including Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen and Aftonbladet. National TV broadcaster SVT covered The Tale in its Kulturnytt programme, and it was mentioned on Sveriges Radio several times.

“We were also in the late autumn supplements of Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter [Sweden’s biggest daily papers], where they list the three most important cultural events in film, dance, theatre and opera,” says Handberg.

He says there are several reasons why KTH put on this performance, one being that he feels KTH does live a bit too much on its old glories.

“We say that we’re Sweden’s biggest and oldest technical university. And we are. But there’s no guarantee that this claim will remain an asset forever. We need to do things that help us to remain attractive,” he says, adding:

“We need to show ourselves to new target groups, and to existing groups in new ways, and this ticks both the boxes. We’ve shown that Tekniska Högskolan is more than just a metro station.”

The motto "Vetenskap & Konst" in practice

And of course the opera fits perfectly with the KTH motto, Vetenskap & Konst (Science & Art), says Handberg.

“Both the opera itself, how it was stage designed and all the technology involved. But also the opera’s theme, based on Alfvén’s book about artificial intelligence, even though he never used that term himself. If there was any work that KTH was going to perform, it had to be this. It suits KTH down to the ground.”

Profile photo of Ellie Karlsson.
Ellie Karlsson, Project Manager Events & Communications at the Communications Department, and Project Manager Operations for the opera. Photo: KTH.

Ellie Karlsson, Project Manager Events & Communications at KTH’s Communications Department, and Project Manager Operations for the opera, agrees.

She comments on how valuable the opera event has been for KTH from a branding perspective.

“It has been very beneficial. It’s made us visible not only in the science news, but also in a cultural context. I think it’s helped a lot of people to look at KTH in a new way,” says Karlsson.

Where Leif Handberg has been the visionary and creative, she says her own role has been more cautious and pragmatic.

“I’ve tried to bring Leif’s ideas in line with official regulations and guidelines,” says Karlsson.

A good run-up to the bicentenary

Karlsson and Handberg agree that this opera initiative lays a good foundation in the run-up to KTH’s upcoming bicentenary in 2027.

“I hope we can do more cultural events. It’s great to see KTH developing like this, it gives us a foundation to build on,” says Karlsson.

Handberg adds that another positive is how the opera has brought so many people at KTH together.

“As employees, we get an insight into what other researchers are doing, certain kinds of research projects and so on, but I don’t think it’s always that easily accessible. I’m a researcher myself, but that doesn’t mean I understand all the other research at KTH. But a cultural project like this, everyone can understand, and it clearly brings some positive attention to KTH,” he says.

The entire opera was broadcasted on Sveriges Radio P2 on Saturday 11 February.

Håkan Soold

The Tale of the Great Computing Machine

KTH’s opera, The Tale of the Great Computing Machine, is based on the Swedish book Sagan om den stora datamaskinen, written in 1970 by Nobel Prize in Physics Laureate Hannes Alfvén. It was published in 1966 under the pseudonym Olof Johannesson (although the 1986 edition was published under the author’s real name). According to an article about the opera written by Leif Handberg on Wikipedia, the book is “…a story of evolution written in a distant future, where humankind’s significance has been reduced to an evolutionary step on the way to a wise, all-knowing computer”. Alfvén divided his working time between KTH and Berkely University. The book, published in English under various titles (The Great Computer, The Tale of the Big Computer and The End Of Man?) came to be a cult classic in Silicon Valley.

Back in the 1960s, composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl, whose works include a successful opera adaptation of Harry Martinson’s epic poem Aniara, was in hospital when he was given a copy of the book by a friend. Blomdahl was blown away by the story, and he contacted Hannes Alfvén saying he wanted to make an opera out of it. Alfvén initially declined, claiming the book was far too abstract. But Blomdahl persisted, and a libretto was developed. The idea was to stage the opera at the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm, and at the Metropolitan in New York. But Blomdahl died before completing the work, and the idea for an opera based on the book lay dormant until recently.

KTH had initially planned to stage its opera adaptation in December 2020 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hannes Alfvén’s Nobel Prize, but the pandemic had other ideas so it was finally performed at the KTH Reactor Hall in December 2022.

Further information about the opera and the people involved can be found at

Belongs to: Current
Last changed: Feb 15, 2023