The Sydney Opera House is the busiest performing arts centre in the world. Since its opening in 1973, it has brought countless hours of entertainment to millions of people and has continued to attract the best in world class talent year after year. Even today, many visitors are surprised to find that the Sydney Opera House is really a complex of theatres and halls all linked together beneath its famous shells.
In an average year, the Sydney Opera House presents theatre, musicals, opera, contemporary dance, ballet, every form of music from symphony concerts to jazz as well as exhibitions and films. It averages around 3,000 events each year with audiences totaling up to two million. In addition, approximately 200,000 people take a guided tour of the complex each year. The Opera House operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Construction sydney opera house
The committee set up by the Government selected the site for the building. Known as Bennelong Point, it was named after the first Aborigine to speak English, who was born on the site. Until this time, it was used as wharfing area and had a rather unsightly tram storage barn prominently occupying much of the site.
An international competition was organised for the design of a performing arts complex, and although this was well known, the misnomer “Opera House” caught on. The competition called for a structure that contained two theatres within it – a large hall for opera, ballet, and large scale symphony concerts capable of seating 3,000-3,500 people, and a smaller hall for drama, chamber music and recitals, capable of seating approx 1,200 people. Design entrants were told that they were free to choose any approach that they wished, and that there were no limits to what the potential cost of the structure could be. 233 different design entries were submitted from all over the world.
The winner of the competition, announced in January 1957, was the Danish architect Jorn Utzon (born in 1918). It was originally envisaged that it would take four years to build the Opera House; in actual fact, it wasn’t completed until mid 1973.
Construction of the building commenced in March 1959 and proceeded in slow stages over the next fourteen years. At the time that construction was started, Utzon protested that he hadn’t yet completed the designs for the structure, but the government insisted that construction get underway, and so it did!
At least as much a problem as starting the construction prior to completing the revolutionary design, was the fact that the government itself changed the requirements for the building after construction had started. The original design called for two theatres. The government changed its mind and required the building to be altered and that four theatres now be incorporated into the design. Recently, some internal changes to the structure have enabled a fifth theatre to be created.
The original design was so boldly conceived that it proved structurally impossible to build. After four years of research Utzon altered his design and gave the roof vaults a defined spherical geometry. This enabled the roofs to be constructed in a pre-cast fashion, greatly reducing both time and cost.
The project was subject to many delays and cost over-runs, and (probably unfairly) Utzon was often blamed for these. A new government was elected in NSW in 1965, partly on the campaign promise to “do something” about the cost overruns with the design. The government withheld fee payments to Utzon and refused to agree to his design ideas and proposed construction methods. This pretty much forced Utzon to resign, which he did in February 1966 as Stage II was nearing completion. A team of Australian architects took over and after an extensive review of the proposed functions of the building, proceeded with its completion.
The first performance in the complex, in the Opera Theatre on 28 September 1973, was The Australian Opera’s production of War and Peace by Prokofiev. The Sydney Opera House was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973.