Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sydney: Opera House

My last day in Sydney was by far the most beautiful.  The skies were crystal clear and it was about 75 degrees.  I headed over to the Opera House, armed with a coupon provided to me by my concierge that would allow me a 20% discount on a tour.

I stopped to take a few pictures on the way.

I spy my hotel

I made it over to the Opera House in time for the 10am tour.  The discounted price was $28.  I hurried down the stairs to meet the group.  Our tour guide handed us headsets and we were off.  The guide would hurry ahead and we could hear him no matter how far away he was from us because of the handy headsets.

He began by telling us that the Opera House doesn't only house operas.  In fact, it hosts concerts, ballets, comedians, plays, etc.  However, he pointed out that the "Opera House" rolled off the tongue better than the "Sydney Multi-Purpose Entertainment Center".
Example of the diversity of the arts
He next showed us a video of the history of the Opera House.  I found this particularly interesting.  It all began in 1955 when the government decided that they wanted to put an opera house on Bennelong Point right near Circular Quay.  They initiated a worldwide design competition.  It spawned a tremendous number of entries by various architects around the world.  Winning was a virtual unknown, a 38 year old Danish architect named Jorn Utzon.  His sketch, which prominently displayed the curved shells on the rooftops of the buildings, were inspired by the harbor.  However, he had no clue how to actually construct these shells in practice.  His design was way ahead of its time.

Construction of the base began in 1959.  Utzon knew that he would need a ton of support for the eventual shell rooftops, so there are many support beams and cables that go all the way down to 200 ft below sea level.  The base went up fairly quickly but the problem was that he still didn't have a solution to the shells.  After spending many years and money, they finally realized that the solution lied in the sphere itself.  They would build the shells in curved sections, connecting them piece by piece.  Thankfully, this solution worked.  However, this success was short lived because the Australian government grew frustrated by 1965, essentially forcing Jorn Utzon off the project.  At the time of his departure, the entire outside of the building was complete.  The government brought in a new, local Sydney architect to finish the inside.

The Opera House finally opened in 1973.  The project ended up taking 16 years to complete at a total cost of $102 million.  Jorn Utzon never came back to see the Opera House in its complete state.  I thought this was particularly tragic since his design was one of the single greatest architectural accomplishments in the modern era.  The situation was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the government asked Jorn Utzon back in 1999 to help with some renovations.  One of the changes was the addition of a room off of the reception hall.  It is appropriately named the Utzon room.  A picture of it is displayed below.  The mural is also his design.

Utzon Room
Jorn Utzon passed away 2 years ago.  Construction projects are still ongoing, although they are being led by Jorn's two sons (also architects obviously).

We also learned that the Opera House has a total of 6 venues, with a total of 5,500 seats.  The largest is the Concert Hall, which has 2,700 seats.  The Opera and Ballet Hall is the next largest with 1,500 seats.  The rest of the theaters are much smaller, each with 500, 400 and 300 seats, respectively.  The last venue, the Utzon room, has capacity of about 100.  It also has a restaurant.

We visited the Concert Hall next.  I couldn't take pictures inside the Concert Hall, but we were allowed to take pictures of the intermission area.  I LOVED this space.  There is a large bar on the lower level and guests can enjoy drinks while checking out incredible views of the harbor from suspended glass walls.  Here are a few pictures:

Intermission view
You could also see a nice view of the Opera/Ballet Hall next door, which is where we were headed next.

Looking over to the Opera/Ballet Hall
On the walk over, we got a nice view of the what the curved shell sections look like from the inside.

On the outside, the sections are covered in white ceramic tiles (imported from Sweden).

When we got over to the Opera/Ballet Hall, we learned that the famous Joan Sutherland spent a lot of her career here.  She just passed away recently and they are already thinking of renaming the hall in her honor.  Ironically, since the entire venue is named for the opera, the Opera Hall is actually not quite large enough to host a "large" opera.  It can only house small to medium sized operas.

The last piece of information that was interesting to learn was that all 6 venues are open to rent for a day or even half-day.  The Concert Hall goes for $15k a day, the smaller venues rent for $1k per day and the Utzon room is open for private functions for $2k per day.

I finished my morning by walking through these gardens.  I enjoyed the scenery and the warming sun.  I walked by many trails, as well as the Government House.  The Government House remains the official reception space for the Governor of New South Wales.

My walk continued by the Public Library of New South Wales, the Parliament House and the Sydney Hospital.

Now famished, I found a little Italian bistro over in The Rocks, a neighborhood with original architecture from the 18th century.

After I finished my meal, it was unfortunately time to walk back to the Marriott and check-out.  After which, I grabbed a taxi and made my way to the airport.  On my journey home, I had ample time to reflect on just how lovely a city is Sydney.  I need to figure out a way to get back here sometime.


  1. Awesome Tricia nice job. Carolyn

  2. I've been dying to go to Sydney. It looks like such a fun city to just walk around and take in the sights. I love the architecture in these pictures. Beautiful.

  3. Just heard about your blog and had to check it out... I love everything about travel!!

  4. Melissa / Jen: thanks for checking the blog out! I hope to share lots more! I have some trips from this summer that I need to write about and Kristen and I are heading out on vacation next week too! I'm going to check out your blogs now too :)

  5. I wandered over from Daisy's blog. I love travel blogs and I've never been to the places you have listed so far, but they're definitely on my "to travel to"-list :)