If there are three main images of landmarks that foreigners associate with Australia, I’m guessing they are Uluru, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the incredible building that sits opposite it over the harbour just a tad, the Sydney Opera House.
I visited at some point as a kid, I don’t really remember when exactly, but I don’t think I really appreciated it. Flash forward to 2018 and last month I returned. I’d been to Sydney a few times since my childhood, it’s a pretty cool city and despite being born in Melbourne which automatically gives me a Victorian bias, I really think Sydney is a great place to visit. Anyways, this was the first time I’ve returned to the Opera House since my first visit, I’m pretty sure my parents took me to see a symphony or something similar back in the day, but this time I got to do a tour.
Tours are worthwhile indeed. They are today offered in a number of languages and if you book online you an get 10 per cent of the price, which can bring it down to around $36 for a single tour. I booked online and made my way there from Circular Quay – a short walk away and probably the closest public transport. My wife and I popped down some steps to the office where we collected the tickets, next to the point where the tours leave from.
We were a little early, so we grabbed a drink and drank it next to the harbour, there are a raft of restaurants and bars just there – you are basically under the Opera House, and over your shoulder you can see the Harbour Bridge too, so it’s not a bad spot for a drink. Be aware that the seagulls prey on anyone silly enough to toss them a chip. We were lucky that it was around 18 degrees and sunny there as it was June and Winter.
To start the tour, we had around 15 people with us which worked out pretty well. They begin by taking photos of you to pop you into shots that they compile into a little book that they offer to sell you at the end of the tour. Which is pretty typical I guess for any kind of tour these days, but it was pretty pricey (over $50 if I remember correctly) and seriously, they print stuff out for everyone regardless of whether they buy it or not which means 90% of them get thrown in the bin. A tad wasteful, one might say!
Almost as interesting as the incredible structure itself is the history – our guide was very knowledgeable and showed us a short video as part of the tour. Jorn Utzon was the architect who won the original bid in the 1950s to design and build the house. His design was originally not considered until someone joined the board late who were making the decision and insisted on this design.
The design was selected in 1957, construction began in 1959 but was not completed until 1973 by which time Utzon was long gone, walking out of the project for a variety of reasons and disagreements. Although the original budget was around 7 million Australian dollars, the overspend was gigantic at $102million AUD! This was not a project that went smoothly!
Nevertheless, the results are hard to argue with in 2018! The most recognised building in all of Australia, with seven auditoriums and an UNESCO World Heritage listing. It’s fair to say, Utzon left his mark! And he made peace with it all earlier this century, but was not well enough to come to Australia to see it in person before he passed away (his son did though).
So the tour began. And the one thing they are very careful to let people know, on more than one occasion, is that there are photo restrictions. So basically our guide would tell us where we could and couldn’t take photos. The general rule was no photos in auditoriums – the issue was that people may be working and in the line of the shots, and not able to give permission. Or the sets for productions – we didn’t have the rights to publish photos of them basically. But when there was no-one on stage, we were allowed to take pics which was good. An there were no sets erected in the main auditoriums we visited.
The three sails that you see are actually three separate buildings, connected underneath. I never realised until I was there up close and personal. The sails are actually a shell really, not connected to the buildings below, which we had pointed out, but when you look up from inside you can see this.
The tour took us to the studio, a space that was once a recording studio but is now a square theatre with seats on all sides – technically, despite its shape, it’s a theatre in the round. The space was originally planned to be a giant lift to take sets and the like up to the above concert hall, but that idea was abandoned before completion.
Then we walked outside around on the Sydney Harbour side providing us with an amazing view, and up some stairs before entering the back foyer for the concert hall. I must admit to loving the purple carpet.
The Concert Hall is amazing, beautifully balanced for acoustics. Apparently they have had a range of performances here, not just symphonies – in fact they have even had boxing and gaming in the auditorium!
We walked around until we were in another sail and we got to see the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre which has mostly performances of opera and ballet throughout the year, with around 6 months for each discipline allocated. There was activity on stage, it seemed they were just bumping in a new production. What a huge, amazing space!
And the same goes for the whole building! And even if you don’t have a big interest in the arts, I think it has to be on the top of ‘to do’ lists when it comes to Sydney. So do yourself a favour and check out one of the world’s modern amazing buildings! Thanks for reading – and May the Journey Never End!