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Sydney Opera House

Learn about the gem of Australia that is the Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House is located on the peninsula Bennelong Point. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The Sydney Opera House is located on the peninsula Bennelong Point.

The Sydney Opera House is a globally recognized architectural landmark and a renowned performing arts center. As synonymous with Australia as the pyramids are with Egypt, the Sydney Opera House is recognized by the World Heritage List as a "great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world famous iconic building."

The modern architectural marvel is located at Bennelong Point, a peninsula that juts out into Sydney's breathtaking harbor. The Point is in the east bank of Sydney Cove. According to the government's


Although the Sydney Opera House is a relatively modern building, Bennelong Point was used for Aboriginal concerts since 1791, according to the New South Wales Government Department of Commerce. A fort and tram depot were also previously housed at the site. According to the government's Heritage Branch, the building abuts the location of the first European settlement in Australia.

The building forever associated with Australia was actually designed by an architect from Denmark, according to the Australian Government. Architect Joern Utzon entered a competition run by the New South Wales government in the 1950s. The competition was open-ended, without requirements for cost or design. The only specification was that the building should hold two halls for opera and symphony performances.

For years, squabbles hampered the building process. Most were over interior room design and cost overruns, leading to Utzon's resignation from the project in 1966. Street protests erupted over the project's costs. In 1973, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the building. The Sydney Opera House was completed with the help of other architects, but Utzon, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, did complete an interior room in 2004, and his original design was the basis for the building. Utzon rehabilitated the Reception Hall, turning it into a light-filled space. The City of Sydney attributes the success of the project to state Premier Joseph J. Cahill (who announced the international competition for the building design) and Eero Saarinen, an American architect.


Many people visit the Sydney Opera House to admire its architecture, rather than to attend performances. The Sydney Opera House is a "masterpiece of late modern architecture," according to the Sydney Opera House official Web site. According to the City of Sydney, the architectural design is especially unique in that it does not borrow from historical precedent. Utzon did, however, reflect Mayan temples in his vision of a majestic ceremonial stage with a staircase anchored by the impressive roof, which covers the two main performance halls. The artist also compared the structure to Gothic churches, explaining that he was fascinated by the interplay of building with sky and natural light.

Many prominent architectural designs focus on a building's walls. However, the Sydney Opera House puts the emphasis on the roof. The roof is built out of interlocking vaulted shells. According to The Royal Society of New South Wales, the tiled roof shells are the most important visual aspect of the Sydney Opera House. It took eight years to complete the roof shells.

The one million white tiles that cover the roof were made in Sweden. Smooth glazed tiles alternate with rough-surface tiles. The main shells are anchored by concrete ribs. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Sydney Opera House's vaulted shells are arranged in three groupings. UNESCO praises the architecture as visionary and daring.

The rooftop contains terraced pedestrian areas. The building is also praised for capturing the vast spirit of the Sydney Harbour itself. Two main halls stand inside the Sydney Opera House, facing away from the harbor. The podium stairs are located in an open space known as the Forecourt. The Monumental Steps lead to the performance areas.


The Sydney Opera House actually has multiple performance venues, according to its official site:

  • Concert Hall. The largest performance venue, the Concert Hall, is the home of the Sydney Symphony, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, among others. Seating 2,679, the Concert Hall is a magnificent room fashioned of white birch timber and brush box.
  • The Opera Theatre. Mostly showcasing opera, ballet and dance performances, the Opera Theatre is a proscenium arch lyric theatre that seats 1,507 and boasts an opera pit that can seat 70 musicians. Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet are among the outfits that perform in the Opera Theatre.
  • The Drama Theatre. The Drama Theatre houses theatre companies, such as the Sydney Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare, among others.
  • Playhouse. Some of the same theatre companies that use the Drama Theatre also use the Playhouse, which is a smaller venue that is also designed for theatrical performances, but usually those operating with one set. It seats 398 people.
  • The Studio. Modern music and other newer performances are typically held in the Studio, which is the smallest venue in the Sydney Opera House. Cabaret and spoken presentations are held at the Studio, which seats up to 350 people.
  • Utzon Room. The signature of the Utzon Room, a multi-purpose room, is a large, colorful tapestry commissioned by the architect.
  • Forecourt. This outside venue provides sweeping views of Sydney Harbour and is used for New Year's celebrations, concert performances and other events. The seating is amphitheatre style and can be reached by the Monumental Steps.
  • Recording Studio. This is a world-class studio for producing and recording music.


The first performance at the Sydney Opera House was Prokofiev's War and Peace, presented by the Australian Opera. According to the Australian government's Heritage Branch, the Sydney Opera House has hosted some of the world's greatest performers, including:

  • Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti
  • The New York Philharmonic with conductor Leonard Bernstein
  • Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov
  • Performers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sammy Davis Jr.
  • Popular performers like Michael Jackson and Elvis Costello.

Facts and Figures

Since its 1973 opening, the Sydney Opera House has been visited by more than 100 million people and has hosted 100,000 performances. Below are some interesting facts and figures about the Sydney Opera House:

  • 3,000 events are held there annually.
  • It contains 1,000 rooms.
  • 200,000 visitors tour the building each year.
  • 2 million people attend performances there each year.

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