Landmark Sydney Opera House, a UNESCO heritage site, is a multi-venue wonder. Aruna Chandaraju
From the time of touchdown in Sydney, one could hardly wait to see the city’s biggest draw –– Sydney Opera House. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered one of the greatest centres for performing arts in this part of the world and an architectural masterpiece.
The Opera House plays host to over 1,500 performances and events every year. Opera, jazz, ballet, theatre, classical music, comedy shows, community events, ceremonies … the centre has them all. It receives about 80-lakh visitors every year and is reckoned the country’s most-photographed building!
Actually, it turned out that opportunities for viewing the Opera House are plentiful. Around the harbour, which one touched many times, it is difficult to miss the looming presence of this Australian icon. In spite of being over 200 ft. it is obscured in many places by the countless skyscrapers that abound the city. However, along with the famed Sydney Harbour Bridge which is alongside, it dominates the skyline in this part of the city. And almost everywhere one went –– Sydney Tower, well-known waterfront restaurants, Harbour Cruise, seaside residential areas, several museums –– the Opera House was clearly visible.
It looks impressive –– by day and night. It is a sight to see early in the morning as the sun’s rays glint off its spectacular sails. Lit up at night, it looks a luminous picture and the play of light from the water creates a dappled effect.
It is a multi-venue centre, which means it has versatile uses such as platforms for theatre, opera, ballets, classical and contemporary music performances, conferences, talks, presentations, and even cabaret and circus-acts!
The biggest interior venue is the Concert Hall with 2,679 seats––the large size, wooden panelling and cathedral-like ambience take one’s breath away. It is home of the Sydney Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Philharmonic Choirs. It also houses the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, the world’s largest mechanical tracker action organ.
Joan Sutherland Theatre is a proscenium with an orchestra pit and is the key performance space for The Australia Ballet and Opera Australia.
A medium-sized proscenium arch affair, Drama Theatre hosts both traditional productions and experimental performances. The Playhouse with 398 seats is for story-telling––whether dramatic performances or film-screenings. Conferences and presentations too are held here. The Studio was essentially designed for contemporary music performances but today can accommodate a wide range from corporate presentations and cocktail parties to cabaret and circus acts.
The Utzon Room, named after the architect, offers a view of the harbour and is host to corporate functions, glamorous parties and small productions.
The Forecourt is a large open-air venue currently under repair. The well-equipped Recording Studio is for use by individual artists, filmmakers and producers.
The centre’s design is said to have been inspired by a ship. The famed roof is frequently compared to the sails of a ship. Construction of this monument began in 1957 and was completed in 1973. Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, won this much-coveted opportunity after a worldwide design competition which saw over 200 entries from around the world.
The magnificent appearance is matched by world-class technical facilities. The interior venues are especially noted for their outstanding acoustics. It is today a much-sought-after platform by performing artists.
If you are interested in the inner workings and behind-the-scenes glimpses, check out the guided tours offered daily in several languages.
For those who find opera and ballets too high-brow or just want more, one can enjoy a casual visit to the live comedy shows or attend a talk, for instance. And there is good food too! There are restaurants and bars housed under its sails. The Opera Kitchen offers both covered and al-fresco seating (some tables placed just beside the waters).
At the tables near the water, seagulls descend often to share the lunch. There are hundreds of them hovering around. It does not matter. Where else can one dine in an architectural wonder, savour great food while enjoying the stunning view of a picturesque harbour, and have birds for lunch-table companions!