Of the many tourist landmarks around the world, there is probably only a handful that's instantly recognizable to most people. These architectural and historical wonders almost never need an introduction as they tend to be synonymous to the cities where they are located. Paris, for instance, boasts of its very iconic Eiffel Tower, while New York takes pride of the Statue of Liberty. And who would not recognize London's Big Ben? Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, there lies an architectural marvel symbolizing the Land Down Under to the rest of the world with a global recognition factor of around 4 billion people.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Sydney Opera House.
Welcoming more than 8 million visitors a year, the Sydney Opera House wows each individual by its unusual formation. I felt elated having laid eyes on this architectural masterpiece for the first time just recently. I don't know where to begin exploring the place. Honestly, I didn't know where the main entrance was. So I decided to look for the Welcome Centre at the lower concourse where I need to get my pre-booked tickets for my 12 noon guided tour.
Having arrived quite early, I had a good 30 minutes to do some serious sightseeing and take a couple of Instagram stories before the tour began. I carefully gazed over the harbor and start thinking of the good angles to take a photo when I go to the other side later that day. The House and the Coathanger truly complement each other to make up a perfect view of the Sydney Harbour.
The most noticeable facet of the House is its unique roofing which is seemingly made up of a cluster of tastefully designed "shells". I was too curious that I had to get close to the lower portion of one of the shells and touch them for myself. There are 1,056,006 glazed ceramic tiles that adorn the roof bonded by ribs forming each shell.
As it turned noon, my guided tour began with a history of what is now known as the Sydney Opera House. The site sits on the Bennelong Point on Sydney Harbour where the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation gathered to exchange stories and to perform songs and dances. I think the building of a venue for theatrical productions makes a good embodiment for the customs and traditions of the Aboriginal people.
Danish architect Jørn Utzon won the opera house design competition in 1957 beating 232 other entries from all over the world without even seeing the proposed site. Two years later, construction and development started.
Now, this is were the plot of the story takes off. Years after the project commenced, conflicts between Utzon and the Australian government arose. The project was very complex and way ahead of its time that several revisions to the original plan had to be made. The construction took 14 years from the initial 4-year plan with the budget bloating by almost 1500%. The government halted the funding for the project which led to Utzon's resignation as Chief Architect and leaving the country. Until he died in 2008, he never got the chance to see his masterpiece to its completion.
Continuing the tour, our group was guided to some of the performance venues. The Sydney Opera House has seven of them. The Studio is one of the smaller venues with a capacity of up to 600 people. It's a flexible space which can cater for parties and corporate events to cabaret and circus acts. We were then lead to the Drama Theater, the home to the Sydney Theater Company making it unavailable for commercial hire. It is immediately below the Concert Hall and its rehearsal room.
Walking through the hallways, one will gain a deeper appreciation of the building's architecture. I'm sure architects and engineers will geek out while inside the House.
The tour culminated at the Concert Hall. With a capacity of more than 2,600 people, it is the largest venue in the Sydney Opera House and is home to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The grandeur of the Hall is utterly breathtaking let alone seeing the Orchestra playing even just for rehearsals. I had goosebumps for real.
The Sydney Opera House is not only for the opera. It is a venue for more than 2,000 shows each year from concerts and ballet to rock performances and pageants. Arnold Schwarzenegger even won his final Mr. Olympia title in the Concert Hall in 1980.
The one-hour tour ended on a pleasant note. We were told that, in the late 1990s, the Sydney Opera House Trust reconciled with Jørn Utzon and invited him back for the refurbishment of the House. Unfortunately, he was too old to travel then. But his son, Jan Utzon, was highly involved in the renovations. It's nice to know that the younger Utzon is part of the continuation of the project that defined his father's life's work. What an interesting story.
The House not only has an impressive form that's known all over the world but also has an important part in the history of Australia. It plays a significant role in the nation's identity and character. Something that no one, whether a visitor or a local, could deny. The Sydney Opera House is truly more than just a pretty face.
Standard guided tours around the Sydney Opera House run daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, which costs AUD37 for adults, AUD20 for children 5-15 years of age and AUD28 for full-time students aged 16+ worldwide. They also offer a backstage tour daily for AUD165 per person.