I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Opera House on many occasions over the years with friends and family. The Sydney Opera House is instantly recognizable and is one of the most famous man-made structures in the world. Almost everyone who visits the Opera House has their photo taken at on the steps leading up to the entrance and at various vantage points around the building. But how much do you know about it? Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating building.
What is it?
That’s not a trick question! The Opera House isn’t just one venue. It comprises six altogether.
The two larger sets of ‘shells’ contain the two largest which are –
- The Opera Theater – which has 1,507 seats and is the Sydney home of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet and
- The Concert Hall – which has 2,678 seats and is the home of the Sydney Symphony. It’s also used by many other concert presenters. It contains the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, which has more than 10,000 pipes, making it the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world.
On the Western side of the building, there are three smaller theaters –
- The Drama Theater which has 544 seats. It’s used by the Sydney Theatre Company and for other dance and theatrical presentations.
- The Playhouse a 398 seat theatre with a stage at one end.
- The Studio. a flexible space which can seat up to 400
On the Eastern side, is the
- Utzon Room, named after the architect of the building. It is a small multi-purpose venue which can seat up to 210.
There is also a seventh area called
- The Forecourt which houses free community events and large outdoor performances. It is a very flexible open-air venue with a wide range of configuration options, including the potential use of the Monumental Steps as seats for the audience. It is used for a range of community events and major outdoor performances.
The building also contains a recording studio, cafes, restaurants and bars and shops.
The smaller set of ‘shells’ houses an award-winning restaurant called ‘Guillaume at Bennelong’.
Where is it?
The Opera House is on Sydney Harbour, close to Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s on Bennelong Point (hence the name of the restaurant). Three sides of it are on the harbour and it is next to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Who designed it?
The architect was a Dane named Jørn Utzon. In 1955, he entered a competition to design “…a large hall seating 3,000 and a smaller hall for 1,200 people, each to be designed for different uses including opera, orchestral and choral concerts, meeting, ballet and other presentations…”.
233 people from a total of 32 countries entered the competition. Utzon won and was awarded the prize of £5,000. He went to Sydney in 1957 to help get the project off the ground and moved there in 1963.
In 2003, Utzon won the highest award available to architects – the Pritzker Prize. The statement confirming his prize said
“There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.”
A further honor was bestowed on the Opera House and Utzon’s vision when it was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
And you think you’ve got problems…
The Opera House was supposed to open on Australia Day (26th January) 1963. It eventually opened in 1973, ten years late.
The original estimate for the cost of the project was $7 million. By the time it was completed, the Opera House cost $102 million – more than fourteen times over budget.
The Opera House was finally declared open by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia on October 20 1973. Due to disagreements and disharmony during the building, the architect, Utzon, was not invited to attend the opening ceremony. In fact, his name wasn’t even mentioned!
Worth waiting for
Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest performance centres in the world. It showcases more than 1,500 performances every year, watched by around 1.2 million people. It is home to Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Symphony.
It is also a huge draw for tourists with over 7 million people visiting it every year.
Facts About The Building
- Sydney Opera House covers 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) of land.
- It is 605 feet (183 metres) long
- It is 388 feet (120 metres) wide (at its’ widest point)
- It is supported on 588 concrete piers sunk into Sydney Harbour, some of them as deep as 25 metres below sea level.
The instantly recognizable roof of ‘shells’ looks white from a distance. In fact, it is covered with 1,056,006 Swedish tiles – some glossy white and some matte cream colored. The rest of the exterior is mainly covered in panels of pink granite which was quarried in Tarana in New South Wales, Australia.
The ‘shells’ are made from pre-cast concrete panels which are supported by pre-cast concrete ‘ribs’.
Reconciliation with Utzon
In the late 1990’s, the Opera House Trust communicated with Utzon to ask for his input into changes to the building. In 1999, he was officially appointed to the Trust as a design consultant. ‘The Utzon Room’ was a space that he re-designed and it opened in 2004. In 2007, he proposed a reconstruction of the Opera Theatre but sadly died in 2008.
Visiting Sydney Opera House
If you’d like to see what goes on behind the scenes, take the backstage tour (there is one each day) to see the areas that only performers and crew usually see.
The Essential Tour (every half hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. tells the story of the building of the Opera House and the many problems which were encountered and overcome.
To check what is currently showing at the Opera House and to book tickets, go here.
Situated in an ideal position, there is a fabulous view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Harbour from the Sydney Opera House.
- It is also one of the stops for the hop on hop off bus.