Sydney – 31 December, 2017. After seven months of major building works, the world-famous Joan Sutherland Theatre (JST) reopens tonight with Opera Australia’s performance of The Merry Widow.
The much-loved theatre closed in May this year for the first time since opening in 1973, to replace theatre machinery that had reached the end of its operational life - the more than 40-year-old ‘engine’ of the JST – and to use the opportunity to make significant improvements to the orchestra pit, acoustics and safety.
The Opera House and the NSW Government have together invested $71 million to renew the theatre for the 21st century, opening up new possibilities for artists, audiences and staff.
Tonight’s celebratory performance of The Merry Widow by resident company Opera Australia marks the successful completion of the JST renewal on time and on budget. Changes to the theatre 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.
Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said: “Tonight is a historic moment for the Opera House. We are thrilled to be celebrating the New Year with a whole new era for the Joan Sutherland Theatre, one of our busiest and best-loved theatres and the first major project to be completed as part of our $273 million renewal works.
“After more than four decades of intense use, the JST has been transformed in just seven months, ready to meet the needs of future generations of artists, audiences and staff. What enables the magic we see on-stage is the impressively complex and intricate backstage work of performers, musicians, designers and crew. The improvements in the JST will not be immediately visible to the audience tonight, but they will transform the experience of everyone – on both sides of the curtain.”
The JST hosts about 330 performances a year, including opera and ballet as well as contemporary music and talks. Work on the venue was carried out by principal contractor Laing O’Rourke, with specialist sub-contractors, including leading acoustic engineers Müller BBM and Waagner-Biro, a stage systems specialist who also supplied the original theatre machinery in the mid-60s.
Opera Australia CEO Rory Jeffes said: “We’re thrilled to be back in our Sydney home and back in a revitalised venue that will now, more than ever, showcase Opera Australia’s amazing performers. There’s a feeling of excitement across the whole company that we’re a part of something quite historic, the reopening of the JST with our new production of The Merry Widow.
“Throughout the testing and bump-in phase of the JST renewal works, we have put various aspects of the theatre upgrades to the test – including the orchestra pit and acoustics. The feedback from musicians has been overwhelmingly positive – frankly they have been blown away. We hope the audience will feel the same when they experience the much warmer and more lively sound you can now hear around the venue.”
Work on a number of accessibility upgrades will continue after the JST reopens, including a new passageway on the western side of the theatre 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, a function centre and a new creative learning centre.
NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said: “Tonight’s reopening is an important milestone in the Opera House’s Renewal. It is wonderful to see the Government’s investment in NSW cultural institutions coming to fruition through the completion of these critical works, which will ensure the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s central role in Australia’s cultural life now and in the future.”