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Thread: Sydney Opera House turns 40

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    Default Sydney Opera House turns 40

    This last week saw the fortieth anniversary of the opening of Sydney Opera House.

    The building, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon (below), has become a symbol of the city but its history was far from easy. Nothing had been built before exactly resembling Utzon's design, and this presented difficulties in terms of engineering, time constraints and budgets. The building's sculptural form has been compared to shells or billowing sails, but in fact Utzon said it was inspired by the way an orange is cut open into sections. A large part of the money needed to build the project was raised by public lotteries.



    There was also a change of government during the 18 years that it went from drawing board to reality (1956 - 1973). The new State government wanted to get the job done quickly, and pressured Utzon to do so. This resulted in him leaving in the late 1960's, and a team of Australian architects and engineers where hired to complete the work, which was largely the interior. I saw an exhibition many years ago of how Utzon's original interiors would have looked, and I think it is a pity that his vision was in effect left half complete. Although Utzon never expressed open bitterness towards all this, he never revisited Australia. He had settled his family in Australia during the time he was working on the project, and he expressed firm intentions to remain in the country and do more projects.

    Upon the opening of the Sydney Opera House, Queen Elizabeth II said that it was a new wonder of the world. In 2007 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee made it Australia's only item on the list of built world heritage, saying “It stands by itself as one of the indisputable masterpieces of human creativity, not only in the 20th Century but in the history of humankind." For an earlier anniversary, Australian composer Richard Mills composed an opera about Utzon's trials and tribulations called The Eighth Wonder.

    The Sydney Opera House is much more than just an opera house, it is a cultural centre and hub for Sydney life. International and local acts of all kinds - from classical to jazz and rock and beyond - have played the 2600 seat concert hall (the larger of the two big 'shells,' the smaller is the opera theatre). It has seen the launching of careers and the swansongs too - from Aboriginal singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu's debut concert recently to Dame Joan Sutherland's farewell about two decades ago. She had many associations with the building going way back, including singing in Beethoven's Symphony #9 'Choral' at the opening concert in 1973. Even during its construction, Paul Robeson paid a visit and sung his calling card Ol' Man River to the workers on the building site.

    Political summits have occured there with visits by distinguished leaders such as Nelson Mandela, so too events like Oprah Winfrey's visit in recent years. It has even been graffitied as a protest with the words "NO WAR" in red on the white sails during the recent war in Iraq (below).



    During the Winter months it has also been used as a canvas for projections at night as part of Sydney's Vivid Festival (below), the concert hall showcasing special events featuing the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and various artists from outside the classical realm.



    Not many people would instantly think that "opera" and "Australia" are two things that naturally go together in this land of stereotypical beaches, beer and sport. With its complex and prolonged history of gestation, Sydney Opera House in some ways symbolises the ingenuity of the country, its adapation of new ideas and also the resistance to new ideas which came as things changed rapidly in the post-war period. It also demonstrates the vision of the selection panel and some taking of risks, the other designs where basically glorified Modernist boxes. Utzon's design was among the first to look forward towards more site specific forms of design and architecture. The building perfectly matches and fits into the spectacular scenery and photogenic qualities of Sydney Harbour.

    One downside though to this odd location are the ongoing maintenance and repair costs which are considerable - due to the building sitting on a rock outcrop that is surrounded by water (which was the site of a terminus for Sydney's tram system). There have also been many debates over the decades over the adequacy of the opera theatre in staging operas, especially in terms of its small size and the restricted space available.

    On this past weekend, the Prince of Denmark and his Australian wife, Princess Mary, took part in the ceremony to mark the anniversary. They met during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and no surprises that the opera house was part of the logo for the international sports event.

    So happy birthday Sydney Opera House!
    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-28-2013 at 03:26.

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    More images: Protests at Utzon's forced resignation, the interior of the concert hall, and the Sydney 2000 Olympics logo incorporating the 'sails' of the opera house in blue at the top:







    Recent article with more info, photos, videos at ABC news here: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/int...-house/1207208
    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-28-2013 at 02:45.

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    Senior Member senza sordino's Avatar
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    It's a terrific building, wonderful for the city and country. I had the chance to see The Barber of Seville there some years ago. Terrific during intermission on the balcony looking at the exterior and the harbour. Doesn't get much better than that!

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    Sydney seems the ideal location for it - it works well with the surroundings and looks just as cool now as it did then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by senza sordino View Post
    It's a terrific building, wonderful for the city and country. I had the chance to see The Barber of Seville there some years ago. Terrific during intermission on the balcony looking at the exterior and the harbour. Doesn't get much better than that!
    Yes, certainly doesn't, and I like how the building mixes culture with the harbour, which is integral to the city as say the canals are to Venice. Events on the forecourt, with people sitting on the steps as an ampitheatre (or indeed the Aztec temples which Utzon was influenced by), are like that too:



    Quote Originally Posted by elgars ghost View Post
    Sydney seems the ideal location for it - it works well with the surroundings and looks just as cool now as it did then.
    Well yes, it seems made for Sydney. Utzon's design was among the first organic type buildings, and site specific. In fact, the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen's JFK terminal building in New York was I think an influence. Saarinen was on the selection panel of the Sydney Opera House project.


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    Sydney is home to the two ugliest structures in the world: the Opera House and the Coathanger (harbour bridge), but the latter does a better job at what it's supposed to do (fix up those acoustics and out of date stage machinery will ya?!?!)
    Last edited by ComposerOfAvantGarde; Oct-30-2013 at 09:15.

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    Happy 40th SOH! Many happy years ahead.

    On two visits, I haven't attended a concert, but always enjoyed its vision at different hours. I can't see it getting old for me.
    Good times at nearby restaurants, too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Sydney is home to the two ugliest structures in the world: the Opera House and the Coathanger (harbour bridge), but the latter does a better job at what it's supposed to do (fix up those acoustics and out of date stage machinery will ya?!?!)
    Well I know those things are an issue, with both the opera theatre and concert hall. Some work has been done to improve the concert hall's acoustics, I haven't had any issues with that in concerts I attended there in recent years. Maybe for you musos it's a different story? The opera theatre in terms of some criticisms is not 'user friendly' and in terms of operas that need larger than average orchestra (eg. much 20th century repertoire and of course Wagner), the orchestra plays backstage in a studio and speakers need to be used to project the sound.

    In terms of aesthetics and appearance, I don't agree the opera house is ugly, just different. There have been ideas floating around to build a separate arts complex which is more Modernist boxy in design - like the other State capitals, which have arts centres that have more conventional designs (from the 'tent' look of the one in Adelaide, to the faux Eiffel Tower adorning Melbourne's and I can't remember how Brissy's or Perth's look like). So if that was done, and Sydney had a utilitarian Modernist box opera and concert hall at another location, then the present building can be gutted and opened up as a sculpture, purely as that. It would probably reduce the maintenance costs there as well.

    But I would think that if given more time, Utzon would have solved those problems. But it already took 20 years to become reality - so maybe innovation has its limits?

    If you want ugly ComposerOfAvantGarde, look no further than the hideous "toaster" that adorns the other side of the forecourt of the SOH. In the late 1990's there where public protests which had the support of leading musos, directors and theatre types who use the SOH. But to no avail - and this monstrosity was itself a compromise done by the then Prime Minister Paul Keating - had it not been for his intervention, we would have a 30 or 40 level tower fronting (or affronting) the Sydney Opera House.

    But The Toaster is a compromise just like Sydney Opera House. This is a city of compromises, but sometimes they turn out more good than bad!

    Last edited by Sid James; Oct-31-2013 at 01:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    Well I know those things are an issue, with both the opera theatre and concert hall. Some work has been done to improve the concert hall's acoustics, I haven't had any issues with that in concerts I attended there in recent years. Maybe for you musos it's a different story? The opera theatre in terms of some criticisms is not 'user friendly' and in terms of operas that need larger than average orchestra (eg. much 20th century repertoire and of course Wagner), the orchestra plays backstage in a studio and speakers need to be used to project the sound.
    Nah, the inside of both halls is rubbish.
    All thanks to the troglodyte Davis Hughes and the coalition govt. of the time.
    And to the ABC, who hijacked the main hall for concerts instead of opera once Hughes had driven Utzon out of the country.
    I don't think Hall Todd & Littlemore stood a chance of making it work, and they should never have been put in the situation in the first place.
    Best to just look at the outside and dream of what might have been.
    GG

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    Happy 40th SOH! Many happy years ahead.

    On two visits, I haven't attended a concert, but always enjoyed its vision at different hours. I can't see it getting old for me.
    Good times at nearby restaurants, too.
    I didn't know you had been to Sydney. I agree it is like that, and a boon for photographers both local and from overseas. In relation to what you're saying I remember reading that the tiles (made in Sweden) where chosen specifically for their reflective qualities, which impacts on how the sails look at different times of day.

    Quote Originally Posted by GraemeG View Post
    Nah, the inside of both halls is rubbish.
    All thanks to the troglodyte Davis Hughes and the coalition govt. of the time.
    And to the ABC, who hijacked the main hall for concerts instead of opera once Hughes had driven Utzon out of the country.
    I don't think Hall Todd & Littlemore stood a chance of making it work, and they should never have been put in the situation in the first place.
    Well yes it was a compromise, I don't think its rubbish, but its got its limitations. I know the pit in the opera house does get too noisy for musicians there, due to the limited space, for example. I understand there was a move to remove a few rows of the front seats and expand the pit, but I think it came to nothing (due to arguments about it effecting the economic viability of the opera theatre).

    But it was an ambitious project, a highly innovative one too. I read an article that Hall, Todd and Littlemore felt they where unjustly treated, just as Utzon was. Its a compromise, lets face it. They where saddled with a very difficult situation. Later, Utzon was invited to visit and suggest modifications to the building (this was like in the 1990's), but he declined. In any case, its a job that's done and dusted. Any changes would basically be cosmetic, redoing the whole thing would cost huge amounts of money.

    As I said, I saw what Utzon's plans where for the interior. It looked a bit like a walnut when you crack it open, which is how he described it. It was more organic looking, more natural. The glass bits of the exterior where also to be completely different, all that Utzon got up to was building the shells.

    But its over, no use whingeing. WE could have gotten another tarted up Modernist box, like the Lincoln Centre in New York. This is better but its got its limitations.

    Best to just look at the outside and dream of what might have been.
    GG
    Yes, and I kind of think that the proposal to gut the whole thing and leave it standing as a sculpture is a great idea. I think many tourists are like Vaneyes above, they don't get a chance to attend a concert there (although tours of the interior are put on now, and they're probably another thing that keeps this white elephant financially afloat - in terms of the huge maintentance costs of a building on water, dealing with the corrosion of the concrete and steel foundations underneath is a battle).

    So basically do that, since its got its limitations as an arts complex. But then you have to build another one, and which government is going to foot the bill for that?
    Last edited by Sid James; Nov-01-2013 at 00:26.

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    Well, if you were going to gut it, you may as well rebuilt the interior the way Utzon planned.
    I think compromise is the wrong word; that suggests insurmountable technical difficulties that had to be dealt with the best way they could to arrive at the best possible result.
    What happened to the Opera House was a case of philistine vandalism initially, followed by the ABC's opportunistic sabotage.
    The building may appear compromised, but it didn't have to be.
    GG

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    I know the pit in the opera house does get too noisy for musicians there, due to the limited space
    Let's just say that the oboists need to wear a hard hat whenever the trombones are playing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GraemeG View Post
    Well, if you were going to gut it, you may as well rebuilt the interior the way Utzon planned.
    I think compromise is the wrong word; that suggests insurmountable technical difficulties that had to be dealt with the best way they could to arrive at the best possible result.
    What happened to the Opera House was a case of philistine vandalism initially, followed by the ABC's opportunistic sabotage.
    The building may appear compromised, but it didn't have to be.
    GG
    Well I think there is truth in what you say. Maybe if funding does become available they can compare the costs and viability of an arts complex off-site with a more comprehensive rebuilding of the existing site?

    However its not the only case in Sydney that what is originally planned gets screwed around by realpolitik. Its not unusual for things to have to be fixed long after, even decades later. There is always the same issue of short sightedness and lack of vision. One thing like that is a related issue, Sydney's heritage. A lot of what was the British Empire's finest colonial era buildings went under the wrecker's ball in the 1960's and 1970's and replaced by all manner of Modernist eyesores until heritage legislation was bought in during the 1980's. I can name at least a dozen buildings that should have been saved, but which where sacrificed in the name of "progress."

    Now things are done with a bit more caution and some elements of planning, but developers are even more hungry now for land, especially in the boom the city is having regarding real estate. Now its not office blocks they're building in the city, its more apartments.

    But back to topic, I found a recent interview with Jorn Utzon's daughter Lin, and in it mention is made to modifications they made to the Sydney Opera House while he was still alive (about 10 years ago). At the time, she visited Sydney as consultant to relay her father's view on the work. I forgot about this. The interviewer asks her about how the exterior glass sections are so different from her father's original plans. Her reply implies that the interior (and acoustics?) where the focus of the modifications, and so they should have been, given the importance of the function of the building. She says Jorn was regretful of not having been able to finish the project, but he died knowing that basically people in Australia wanted to make amends for the shoddy treatment he got:

    http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/con...3/s3876954.htm

    Quote Originally Posted by Couac Addict View Post
    Let's just say that the oboists need to wear a hard hat whenever the trombones are playing.
    Well that'd be right! And cheaper than removing those front row seats!
    Last edited by Sid James; Nov-04-2013 at 05:01.

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