The month of October 2013 marked the 40th birthday of the Sydney Opera House.

Eugene Goosens, English-born conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the Conservatorium of Music came up with the idea of an opera house for Sydney. He campaigned for a performing arts centre in Sydney for up to 4000 patrons from the late 1940s.

The opera house's shells are based on the geometry of a sphere - Jorn Utzon Sydney Opera House photographs : shell geometry, ribs, segments and model shop, c.1962 (State Library of NSW,  PXA 590 (v.12))
The opera house’s shells are based on the geometry of a sphere – Jorn Utzon Sydney Opera House photographs : shell geometry, ribs, segments and model shop, c.1962 (State Library of NSW,
PXA 590 (v.12))

Bennelong Point was decided upon as the site for a new opera house in 1954 when a committee was appointed to oversee construction of a purpose-built opera house in Sydney. Bennelong Point was one of 30 sites under consideration.

In 1955, NSW Premier John Joseph Cahill announced an international competition to design the new opera house, which was to have two main halls – the large one for opera and plays and the smaller one for drama and chamber music. Over 500 people registered interest and 220 entries were received. Danish architect Jørn Utzon was announced the competition winner in 1957.

Sydney Opera House under construction mid 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC114)
Sydney Opera House under construction mid 1960s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC114)

The opera house took14 years to build from 1958 to 1972. The first stage was the podium which was influenced by Mayan temples Utzon had seen in Mexico; it was completed in 1963. Utzon also oversaw the completion of the distinctive ‘sails’or ‘shells, which took much engineering ingenuity to perfect and build so they were self-supporting. They are based on the geometry of a sphere. Utzon resigned in protest 1965 and was replaced by a team led by the NSW Government Architect, Ted Farmer, who finished off the interiors.

Construction of Sydney Opera House was paid for by a lottery. Unfortunately the second lottery ended up very unhappily for the winners.

The first official performance at Sydney Opera House was a production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace in 1973 to mark the offical opening by the Queen. But Paul Robeson’s impromtu performance for the opera house workers in 1960 was arguably the first on the site – watch the clip here.

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