Following a leisurely lunch at Fortune of War on day 2 in Sydney, it was time to see the Sydney Opera House up close. As we strolled toward the opera house along Circular Quay, we enjoyed more of the giant lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year.
The weather was hot but the people sitting outside at Opera Bar pictured below seemed to be enjoying the live music, a cold drink, and the outdoor mist cooling system. I’ve seen outdoor heaters but not coolers and I was immediately a fan in 90F+ (32C+) temperatures!
I had no idea of the drama surrounding the construction of the Sydney Opera House until we went on the tour. We hadn’t planned to take the $40 tour because you can wander around the facility on your own for free. Instead, we wanted to attend a performance at the opera house, but, unfortunately, nothing scheduled during our visit appealed to us. So, in the end, we decided to take the tour to get the back story. This is some of what we heard and saw.
The Sydney Opera House is located on Bennelong Point which was originally called Tubowgule by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Tubowgule means “where the knowledge waters meet” and the site was considered a sacred meeting place by the Aboriginals. In the 1950s, this site was selected as the location for the new opera house.
Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design was chosen from 233 proposals following an international contest that paid £5000 for the winning design. Construction began in 1959 under the guidance of Utzon, with an estimate of 4 years to complete the project at a cost of $7 million. In the end, it cost $102 million and took 14 years to complete. Engineering challenges dogged the project. First, the ground where the building would be erected was unstable and the solution busted the budget early on. Second, the shell-shaped roof went through several iterations until a structurally sound design was found.
Finally, in 1966, delays and costs strained the relationship between Utzon and the government to the point that Utzon threatened to quit and his resignation was accepted. Although Utzon believed the opera house could not be completed without him, it was. Sadly, he would never return to see the magnificent result of his work.
With seven performance venues in the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theater, Drama Theater, Playhouse, the Studio, the Utzon Room, and the Forecourt, over 2000 performances occur each year. Photography inside the performance venues is allowed only when no sets or performers are present so I purchased the souvenir book which includes the same photo of Jim and me superimposed over various photos of the opera house.
The Concert Hall is the largest venue with seating for 2679 guests. The mechanical action organ with 10,154 pipes is the largest in the world and only one person in the world can tune it. I thought they needed to engage in succession planning pretty quickly. This is the venue where Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final body-building contest in 1980. Luckily, we were allowed to photograph inside.
The Joan Sutherland Theater, seating 1507 guests, was renamed in 2012 for the famous Australian soprano who died in 2010. After a live chicken landed on a cellist during the opera, Boris Godunov, in the 1980s, today, a net covers the 70 musician orchestra pit. Due to an innovative design, sets and props are stored below the stage rather than in the wings and are moved into place by mechanical lifts.
The Drama Theatre, The Playhouse, and The Studio are smaller venues accommodating 544, 398, and 300 guests, respectively. These venues are used for theatrical performances, dance, and even circus acts. The Utzon Room is the only interior space designed by the architect before he left the project. Seating only 200 guests, the intimate space is used often for chamber music performances. Finally, the Forecourt is an outdoor plaza in front of the opera house that is the largest venue with a capacity of 6000.
The interior spaces outside the performance venues were also impressive and the views through 6223 square meters of glass were spectacular.
One million sixty-six thousand six roof tiles cover the exterior of the sails (roof). Although the opera house looks white, the tiles are actually off-white because white would be blinding. You can see a closer view below.
The Sydney Opera House is such an extraordinary architectural masterpiece, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. Currently, the opera house receives over 8 million visitors each year and after our visit, I understand why.
Based on events from February 2019.