The Opera House has always been an Australian icon. Of course, it reached a whole new level of celebrity in January when Oprah beamed her Ultimate Australian Adventure shows to millions of fans across the US, here at home and around the world.
So here are a few lesser known facts about the ‘Oprah’ House guaranteed to keep your own audience entertained:
Where did you put that Viking ship design?
In 1956, the New South Wales Government held an international design competition for a national opera house at Bennelong Point, Sydney. The requirements were for two performance halls; one for opera and one for symphony concerts. From 233 entries, Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design was chosen, reputedly rescued from a pile of discarded submissions. His prize? £5,000, or about $140,000 in today’s money and the chance to create one of the world’s most loved buildings.
Time to raid the petty cash box
The original estimate for the construction of the Opera House was a measly $7 million. Largely paid for by a State Lottery, the final costs came to a staggering $102 million – 14.5 times the original budget!
Anyone keen to do some overtime?
With a crew of 10,000 construction workers, it was estimated that it would take just four years to build the Sydney Opera House. The House was finally opened in 1973, 14 years after construction began.
Nothing but the best
6,233 square metres of topaz coloured glass was used in the construction of the building. The glass was made to order by Boussois-Souchon-Neuvesel in France in a shade used only by the Opera House.
The sails are covered by a staggering 1,056,006 roof tiles, all imported from Sweden. These sails sit on a heavy podium, believed to be the biggest pillar in the world.
What’s on the inside?
- The Sydney Opera House contains seven performance venues:
- The Concert Hall, home of the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ
- The Opera Theatre, home of Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet
- The Drama Theatre, home to the Sydney Theatre Company
- The Playhouse
- The Studio
- The Utzon Room
- The Forecourt, a flexible open-air venue
- The Concert Hall is the largest, with 2,679 seats.
Music to your ears
The Concert Hall Grand Organ took ten years to build. It’s the largest mechanical organ in the world with 10,154 pipes.
Paul Leroy Robeson, an African American bass-baritone concert singer, was the first person to perform at the House in 1960. He climbed the scaffolding while the construction crew at lunch and sang Ol’ Man River and Joe Hill. Following the performance he signed many of the workers’ hard hats.
Props to you!
Two mechanical stage lifts move scenery and props from the scenery dock that sits two full storeys below the Opera Theatre.
Why did the chicken cross the stage?
In the 1980s, a net was installed above the orchestra pit in the Opera Theatre after a live chicken walked off the stage during a performance of Boris Godunov and landed on a cellist.
Flattery will get you everywhere
Listed as one of 20 finalists in the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Sydney Opera House is a true masterpiece of late modern architecture. Its fame as a performance venue continues to grow, with more than 3,000 events held in its seven halls each year in front of an annual audience of more than 2 million people. In 2007, the building was World Heritage Listed with UNESCO stating:
“Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century. It represents multiple strands of creativity, both in architectural form and structural design, a great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world famous iconic building.”