The Sydney Opera House is one of those iconic structures that define a city, like the Eifel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben. But perhaps it is misnamed. It is more an overall performing arts center. The concert hall is bigger than the opera hall, and there are three other theaters and several restaurants in the complex. We spent a good 6 hours at the Opera House.
We started with a tour. It gave the history of the place and we got into 4 of the 5 theaters, the Concert Hall, the Opera House, the Drama Theater and the Studio (black box) Theater. Originally there were to be two theaters, side by side, the Opera House, which would double as a concert hall, and the Drama Hall. It became evident that the needs of orchestras were different from the needs of fully staged operas. And more people attended concerts than operas, so the two side by side halls became opera and concert with drama “in the basement” so to speak.
The Danish architect Jørn Uzton won the competition. He was the son of a naval architect who designed sailing yachts. He designed the building with a base roughly like a Mayan temple, with terraces where people gather. The giant “sails” that are so iconic were to shelter the performance spaces. The problem is no one knew how to actually built the sails. It was Uzton, several years after the design was chosen, who came up with the idea that the sails would be segments of a sphere and using that principle the sails went up.
The Opera House was way over budget and behind schedule. Uzton was dismissed from his post and for a few years building stopped. There was a serious proposal to leave the pedestal and sails in place as a giant sculpture for the harbor and not build the concert, opera and drama halls. After two years Peter Hall was commissioned to finish the project and he designed the interior spaces. We learned all of this during the tour. During questions I asked if Paul Robeson actually performed at the site while it was under construction. The guide said “Yes he did, he was quite a Labour man you know, Sang “Old Man River. How good is that!”
We could take pictures in lobbies and of some of the structural parts but we not allowed to take pics in the halls themselves, which was too bad because the techs had had the grid down and the focus cloth spread for lighting “Carmen” which opened in 4 and a half hours. I would have liked to take some pics of that.
After the tour we wandered a little on our own and then went to a show in the Drama Theatre, “Disappointments.” It is about two actual Aussie women comedians in their 60s who used to have TV shows but don’t now. Their Facebook posts were about how great their lives were now that they were older, the reality was different. There was a fair amount of improve with the audience, including asking younger members what the (f word) are you doing at a show about two aging comedians. The show was funny, poignant and much of it inside Aussie baseball (or perhaps cricket.) We enjoyed it because it somewhat reflected lives of older people AND gave us a bit of an insight into Aussie Pop Culture of the 60s through the 80s.
After the show we had dinner at “The Port Side,” on a terrace of the Opera House giving us a magnificent view of the sunset behind the harbor bridge. On the terrace above us folks liked p along the rail to watch.
At Sunset each night (actually at Civic Dusk) and again at 9 PM “Badu Gili” or “Water Light” is projected onto the Eastern Bennelong Sail of the structure. It is a 7 minute moving display of aboriginal art set to music. There was a good crowd, many locals, watching. (You can see pics in another post.) Following the show we walked toward Circular Quay looking back at the floodlit sails of the Sydney Opera House.