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Definition: Sydney Opera House from The Macquarie Dictionary

an opera house designed by Danish architect, Joern Utzon, located on Bennelong Point, NSW; officially opened in 1973; inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2007.

In 1956 the NSW government launched an international competition for the design of the Sydney Opera House . This was won by Danish architect Joern Utzon with a dramatic design featuring a series of interlocking sail-like shells. Construction began in 1959, but was beset by cost blow-outs and conflict with the government over the interior design. Utzon resigned in 1966 and the project was completed by others. The building opened in 1973 with a performance of the Australian Opera's production of War and Peace. The main areas of the complex are: the Concert Hall (the largest interior venue), the Joan Sutherland Theatre (until 2012 known as the Opera Theatre), the Drama Theatre, the Playhouse and the Studio (the smallest venue). In addition, the forecourt is used for open-air events. The Utzon Room, a reception hall refurbished to Utzon's original design, opened in 2004. The complex was included on the National Heritage List in 2005. In 2007, because of the blending of creativity and innovation in its design, coupled with the engineering and technological achievements involved in its construction and its setting projecting into Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Opera was inscribed on the World Heritage List. It is regarded as one of the major architectural works of the 20th century.

Summary Article: Sydney opera House
from Key Buildings from Prehistory to the Present

It may not be immediately obvious what impelled an Australian city to make an opera house its most prominent feature, but the idea can be traced back to Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) from Melbourne, a diva of the first order, who was one of the first Australians to become an international star. With a prominence comparable to today's Australian film stars, Nellie Melba gave the nation a presence in high culture that bolstered its selfconfidence in its dealings with Europe.

Dame Joan Sutherland from Sydney achieved similar prominence in the twentieth century. Bearing in mind that Australian opera stars have made a global impact – and given the established rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney – the decision to build an opera house on this spectacular site does make sense.

An international competition was organized to find the best designer for the opera house, and the Danish architect Jørn Utzon was selected on the basis of some highly innovative proposals. Turning those ideas into reality turned out to be a much more complex and expensive process than anyone had anticipated, and the many problems – technical, financial and political – became overwhelming for the architect, who resigned from the project long before it was finished. The building was eventually completed with funding from a popular lottery established for the purpose.

The trials involved in creating Sydney Opera House were extraordinary, but the achievement is unarguable. While there are reservations about the building's suitability as a place to stage operas, it has been stupendously successful in asserting Sydney's presence on the world stage. From the moment its gleaming white shell roofs were visible, images of them circulated as symbols of Australia. Internationally the misconception that Sydney is Australia's capital is perpetuated by the continuing existence of the opera house. (The capital of Australia is Canberra.)

The audience for this building is much greater than the audience for opera. It is even greater than the number of visitors to Sydney – or Australia, for that matter. For this wider audience, the internal organization of the space is not an issue. What matters is the compelling and distinctive silhouette – the curved concrete shells covered with iridescent tiles that preside authoritatively over Sydney Harbour. The bulk of the building consists of a self-effacing plinth, a continuation of the land-mass on a natural promontory. A great flight of steps on the landward side brings visitors up the outside of the building, as though they are walking up a hill. The shells sit on top, looking delicate and poised, and housing the upper reaches of the main auditoriums.

To some eyes, Sydney Opera House is a highly sculptural edifice that owes more to the traditions of twentieth-century abstract sculpture than to traditional architectural form. However, the shells are a small part of the whole, and the general idea of making a relatively light canopy seem to float above a dense mass of building has many precedents. Symbolizing Australia's current prominence in world culture, Sydney Opera House is a counterpart to Uluru's continuing and no less iconic presence in the outback (Uluru).

Copyright © 2012 Laurence King Publishing Ltd. Text © 2012 Andrew Ballantyne

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