No other building on Earth looks like Sydney Opera House. Popularly known as the “Opera House” long before the building had been completed, it is, in fact, a complex of theaters, studios, and music venues linked beneath its famous roofs, or “shells.” The building’s birth was long and complicated. Many of the construction problems had not been faced before, resulting in an architectural adventure that lasted 14 years. An appeal fund was set up, eventually raising AU$900,000, while the Opera House Lottery raised the balance of the AU$102 million final cost. Today, the Opera House is Sydney’s most popular tourist attraction, as well as one of the world’s busiest performing arts centers.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
In 1957, the Danish architect Jorn Utzon won the international competition to design Sydney Opera House. He envisaged a living sculpture that could be viewed from any angle, on land, air, or sea. It was boldly conceived, posing architectural and engineering problems that Utzon’s first sketches did not solve. When construction began in 1959, the intricate design proved impossible to execute and had to be greatly modified. The project remained so controversial that Utzon resigned in 1966 and an Australian design team completed the interior. However, he was reappointed as a consultant, to develop a set of guidelines for any future alterations to the building.
ROLE AND SIGNIFICANCE
Sydney Opera House is instantly recognizable around the world. It is managed by the Sydney Opera House Trust, which is responsible for maintaining its high status as Australia’s main cultural landmark and performing arts center. The building is one of the world’s most renowned architectural marvels and has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Top Ten Construction Achievements of the 20th Century award in 1999. An estimated 4.4 million people visit the Opera House every year, 75 percent of whom go just to look around the magnificent structure.
THE THEATER AND HALLS
Underneath the ten spectacular, sail-like roofs of varying planes and textures lies a maze of more than 1,000 rooms of all shapes and sizes showcasing different events. The Concert Hall is decked out in native white birch and brush box (hardwood timber). The Drama Theater stage is 49 ft (15 m) square, and can be clearly viewed from every seat in the auditorium. Refrigerated aluminum panels in the ceiling control the temperature. Fine Australian art hangs in the Playhouse foyer, notably Sidney Nolan’s Little Shark (1973) and a fresco by Salvatore Zofrea (1992-3). The Opera Theater is the second largest venue and hosts lavish opera and dance performances. The theater’s proscenium opening is 39 ft (12 m) wide, and the stage extends back 69 ft (21 m).
Opera House Walkway
Extensive public walkways around the building offer visitors views from many different vantage points.
Opera Theater Ceiling and Walls
These are painted black, to focus the audience’s attention on the stage.
Mainly used for opera and ballet, this 1,547-seat theater is big enough to stage grand operas such as Verdi’s Aida.
This is the largest interior venue in the Opera House, with seating for 2,679 people. It is used for a wide variety of performances, including symphony, choral, jazz, folk, and pop concerts, as well as variety shows.
The Reception Hall and the large Northern Foyers of the Opera Theater and Concert Hall have spectacular views over Sydney Harbour.
Detail of The Possum Dreaming (1988)
The mural in the Opera Theater foyer is by Michael Tjakamarra Nelson, an Aboriginal artist from the central Australian desert.
These, and the forecourt, are used for outdoor films and free entertainment.
This is one of the finest restaurants in Sydney.
Detail of Utzon’s Tapestry (2004)
TJorn Utzon’s original design for this Gobelin-style tapestry, which hangs floor to ceiling in the remodeled Reception Hall, was inspired by the music of 18th-century German composer and musician Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Seating almost 400 people, this venue is ideal for intimate productions, yet it is also able to present plays with larger casts.
Although apocryphal, the story that Jorn Utzon’ s arched roof design came to him while he was peeling an orange is enchanting. The highest point is 221 ft (67 m) above sea level.
Artists performing at Sydney Opera House have the use of five rehearsal studios, 60 dressing rooms, suites, and a green room complete with a bar, lounge, and restaurant. The scene-changing machinery works on well-oiled wheels – crucial in the Opera Theater, where there is often a nightly change of performance.
1959-73: The Sydney Opera House is constructed to a design by Jorn Utzon.
1973: Prokokiev’s opera War and Peace is the first public performance.
2007: The Opera House is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.