On 20 October,1973, Queen Elizabeth II officially inaugurated the Sydney Opera House, 16 years after Danish architect Jørn Utzon had won an international design competition, being selected to oversee the project.
“I congratulate the people of Sydney, and indeed of Australia, on this remarkable addition to its architecture and to its cultural and community life”, the late Queen said at the inauguration. In Her speech, the Queen anticipated the great cultural value the venue would gain in the years to come.
The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace.Queen Elizabeth II
1. 16 years in the making
Although, as remarked by Her Majesty, the construction of the Opera House had “not been totally without problems”, including delays, price spikes and Utzon’s resignation, the building went on to become an “indisputable masterpiece of human creativity, not only in the 20th century but in the history of humankind”, as described in the listing of UNESCO World Heritage, to which it was inscribed in 2007.
“The Opera House was born of an urgent need for new creative expression”, the venue’s website reads. The need was such that the first concert took place even before the completion of the building. In 1960, American singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson climbed the scaffolding and sang “Ol’ Man River” to construction workers.
Almost one month ahead of the official inauguration, the Australian Opera performed Prokofiev’s “War and Peace”, the first production to take place in a completed Opera House.
2. More than an opera house
As the most prominent human-made symbol of our national identity, it’s equal only to the koala and kangaroo in terms of its symbolic recognition.Sydney Opera House
Over the past 50 years, the Sydney Opera House has become synonymous with Australia, standing as a symbol of the country, similarly to France’s Eiffel Tower or Belgium’s Atomium. “It’s impossible to imagine Australia without the Opera House. As the most prominent human-made symbol of our national identity, it’s equal only to the koala and kangaroo in terms of its symbolic recognition. After five decades of storytelling and connection, it has never felt more relevant to the Australian experience”, reads the venue’s website.
Besides having become a landmark, the Opera House makes a point of not being just an opera house. “I think there’s a big misconception that we’re the classical arts”, explained chief customer officer for the Sydney Opera House, Jade McKellar. “We also have contemporary music. We have a big talks program, where we’ve had international and local speakers take it to our stages. We have children’s programming. Any time you come to the Opera House, there’ll be something on that somebody would be interested in.”
Over the years, besides symphonies and orchestras, the venue has welcomed the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Prince, Sting, Bob Dylan, as well as great personalities, including Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II and, more recently, even a holographic appearance of Stephen Hawkin, discussing everything from theoretical physics to One Direction.
3. Celebrating First Nations
According to its 1961 Act, the Opera House exists to not only promote excellence and achievement in the arts, but as a meeting place for matters of local, national and international importance. It carries out that function to this day through programs that celebrate the rich vitality of First Nations culture. “We acknowledge the Gadigal, traditional custodians of Tubowgule, the land on which the Opera House stands”, the venue states.
For the 50th anniversary, Quandamooka artist Megan Cope has created a dedicated artwork, Whispers, made of shells and poles. With more than 85,000 oyster shells positioned across the Sydney Opera House precinct, the artist evokes the ancestral midden sites that were used on this site for Aboriginal celebrations and gatherings for thousands of years.