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Sydney Opera House History 1973 -1981

1973 - 1981 History

1973 - 1981 History

1973 (1 July)

Guided Tours begin

To enable people to get to know the building before public performances commenced, guided tours are introduced, three months in advance of the inaugural performances, with over a half a million people touring the complex during the period 1 July, 1973 to 30 June, 1974.

1973 (28 July)

Opera Theatre undergoes first test performance

The first test operas are presented in the Opera Theatre by the Australian Opera, Fall of the House of Usher by Larry Sitsky and Dalgerie by James Penberthy.

1973 (28 September)

Opening Public Performance at Sydney Opera House

The first public performance, a production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, is given in the Opera Theatre on Friday 28 September, 1973, by the Australian Opera.

The inaugural presentation in the Concert Hall the following night is a Wagnerian program by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is conducted by Charles Mackerras and the Swedish soprano, Birgit Nilsson, is soloist.

The Old Tote Theatre Company (later to be the Sydney Theatre Company), resident in the Drama Theatre, opens its first season in the House on 2 October, 1973, with a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

The Australian Ballet opens its premiere season with a production of The Sleeping Beauty on 7 December, 1973. It is devised and directed by Robert Helpmann, with choreography by Peggy van Praagh, and costumes and decor by Kenneth Rowell.

1973 (20 October)

HM Queen Elizabeth II opens Sydney Opera House

HM Queen Elizabeth II opens Sydney Opera House in the presence of The Duke of Edinburgh on 20 October. The ceremony is conducted on the Forecourt.

Ben Blakeney, a direct descendant of the Aboriginal Bennelong appears silhouetted as a tiny figure at the apex of one of the high roof sails, representing his ancestor and blessing the Opera House and its patrons.

HM Queen Elizabeth II attends the Gala Concert on the same evening of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony featuring the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She also attends the opening night performance of The Magic Flute on Monday 22 October.

Sydney Opera House opens with four main performance halls: the Concert Hall which seats 2,679, the Opera Theatre 1,505, the Drama Theatre 544 and the Music Room (subsequently renamed Playhouse) 398. There is an Exhibition Hall (now toilets in the Western Foyers), a Recording Hall (now the Studio) and a Reception Hall (now the Utzon Room), as well as five rehearsal rooms, two restaurants, six theatre bars and extensive foyers.


Frank Barnes begins his tenure as General Manager of Sydney Opera House.


Jørn Utzon awarded Gold Medal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.


Hall’s glass walls wins Excellence award

Peter Hall receives an Excellence Award from the Association of Consulting Engineers, Australia for glass walls in Sydney Opera House.


Mr Stan Buckley, OBE, begins tenure as Chairman of the Sydney Opera House Trust.


Sir Robert Norman begins tenure as Chairman of the Sydney Opera House Trust.

1978 (1 January)

Orchestra Pit in the Opera Theatre enlarged

Work begins on the enlargement of the Opera Theatre’s orchestra pit in January, and is completed in March. The extra space allows for up to 15 additional musicians. The maximum orchestral strength, dependent on instrumentation, now varies between 70 and 75.

1979 (March)

Lloyd Martin begins his tenure as General Manager of Sydney Opera House.

1979 (31 May)

Concert Hall Grand Organ inaugurated

The Grand Organ is designed and built by Sydney-born Ronald Sharp. He is assisted by a team and during the final months of construction, by the Austrian organ-building firm of Gregor Hradetzky.

The organ is officially handed over to the Trust by the Deputy Premier and Minister for Public Works, Jack Ferguson, on 31 May, 1979. The first recital is given a week later by David Lawrence.

The organ has five manuals plus pedals and contains over 10,000 pipes, of which 109 are visible from the auditorium. There are 200 ranks of pipes grouped into 127 speaking stops with 28 couplers. The front show pipes are 95% tin, 5% lead and are burnished to a mirror-like finish. The largest front pipe is E in the 32ft octave with a diameter of 430mm and a length of 9.26m. It weighs 340kg. There is a Carillon of 24 small bronze hand bells. The Tympanon operates a soft bass drum roll and there is an imitation cuckoo and nightingale.

Construction costs $1.2 million. Sharp said that the organ would not sound its best for two or three years - or until it had been “played in”, finely tuned, adjusted and its thousands of pipes given a chance to “settle”.

1980 (27 May)

All-Australian Royal Charity Concert

On Tuesday 27 May, 1980, HM Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh attends a Royal Charity Concert in aid of people with disabilities in the Concert Hall. The concert is created and staged by Channel 9 and the NSW Government and is televised throughout Australia.

The entertainers are all Australians and include Julie Anthony, Roger Woodward, Paul Hogan, Olivia Newton-John, Peter Allen, Graeme Murphy, Chris Kirby, John Farnham, Lois Strike, Kelvin Coe and Helen Reddy.


Mr David Block, AC, begins tenure as Chairman of the Sydney Opera House Trust. 

Image credit: Fairfax


HE – His/Her Excellency
HRH – His/Her Royal Highness
TRH – Their Royal Highnesses


Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II & His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh


Her Royal Highness Princess Anne
Their Imperial Majesties the Shah & Shahbanou of Iran
HRH the Prince of Wales


HE U Ne Win, President of Burma and Chairman of the Council of State
HRH the Princess Margaret


HE Mr Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the United Nations & Mrs Waldheim
Their Majesties King Hussein & Queen Alia al-Hussein of Jordan
HE Mr Hammer Deroburt, President of Nauru & Mme Deroburt
HE Mr Lee Quan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore


Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II & HRH the Duke of Edinburgh
TRH Crown Prince Hassan & Princess Sarvath of Jordan
HRH the Prince of Wales


Prince Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran
HRH Princess Alexandra, the Hon Lady Ogilvy
TRH Princess Beatrix & Prince Claus of the Netherlands


TRH Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester & Birgitte, the Duchess of Gloucester
Their Majesties King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, GCMG, GCVO, KBE and Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho of Tonga


HE Mr Li Xiannian, Vice-Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II & HRH the Duke of Edinburgh


TRH Prince & Princess Michael of Kent
HRH the Prince of Wales

Image credit: Fairfax

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