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First look behind-the-scenes in renewed Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney – 20 December, 2017. The Sydney Opera House today provided a glimpse of the changes that audiences will see when the world-famous Joan Sutherland Theatre (JST) re-opens on New Year’s Eve, after seven months of renewal works.

As the $71 million-dollar works in the JST enter their final stages, NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin MLC, and Opera House Resident Company, Opera Australia attended the first behind-the-scenes tour since the venue closed in May this year. 

The Opera House funded the $45 million upgrade of theatre machinery that had reached the end of its operational life, while the NSW Government contributed $26 million to enable additional venue improvements to take place. 

Together, these major works will transform the experience of artists, audiences and staff in the much-loved theatre when the venue officially reopens on New Year’s Eve with Opera Australia’s The Merry Widow. Key upgrades include:

  • New theatre flying system that is quieter, safer and more reliable;
  • Improved grid deck providing a more flexible system of hoists and a clearer, more open work area;
  • Partial replacement of the auditorium lighting and a new sound console and follow spot room;
  • Upgraded orchestra pit and the installation of a state-of-the-art acoustic enhancement system to improve playing conditions for musicians and better distribute orchestral sound around the JST; and
  • Six additional female toilets to better service audience members.

Work on a number of accessibility upgrades will continue after the JST reopens, including a new passageway on the western side of the venue leading to a new lift to provide greater accessibility to all levels of the Northern Foyer and a new accessible bathroom. These works are due for completion in mid-2018.

The JST upgrade is the first part of a larger program of Renewal works at the Opera House totaling $273 million. This includes a $202 million investment by the NSW Government in upgrades to the Concert Hall, entry foyers and arrival area under the Monumental Steps and function centre and a new creative learning centre.

NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said: “As the first major project in the Opera House’s renewal, the Joan Sutherland Theatre upgrade is a significant milestone in the largest program of capital works undertaken since the building opened in 1973.

“It is wonderful to see these critical works being completed ahead of the official JST reopening. It signals a new era for one of the world’s great performance venues and an Australian icon, opening up new possibilities and ensuring it is able to continue to meet the needs and expectations of artists, audiences and visitors for many years to come.”

Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said: “The reopening of the JST is the culmination of several years of planning and hard work by many people – from our staff, resident companies, contractors and the NSW Government – without whom the scale of the JST's renewal would not have been possible.

“After seven months of intensive construction work, crew members, performers, musicians and staff are back. They are thrilled with the upgrades and enjoying intense training and testing from all angles, all of which are critical to a successful reopening on New Year’s Eve.”

In preparation for the reopening, Opera Australia’s production team are part of an extensive training and bump-in program and members of the orchestra are involved in testing the new acoustic upgrades.

Opera Australia CEO Rory Jeffes said: “The transformation of the JST is an incredibly exciting and important moment in our company’s history. Despite the challenges presented by the closure, we are hugely excited to return to our Sydney home and to a renewed venue that is better equipped to meet the needs of 21st century performance.

“When audience members take their seats in the JST they may not notice huge changes in the auditorium, but behind-the-scenes it will be a different story. The backstage machinery upgrades, orchestra pit works and acoustic enhancements will transform the experience for artists and audience members alike, allowing us to push creative artistic boundaries in entirely new ways.”

The JST is one of the Opera House’s busiest venues with around 330 performances per year, including opera, ballet, contemporary music, talks and ideas. Work on the venue has been carried out by Principal Contractor Laing O’Rourke as well as a number of specialist companies, including world-leading acoustic engineers Müller BBM and engineering firm Waagner-Biro.

For further media information, please contact:

Melanie Wellington
Senior Corporate Communications Manager
+61 2 9250 7172 / +61 413 709 081