Shows can stick with us. Whether it’s seeing Solange at Vivid LIVE, in sync and in ceremony; the one-two punch of Nanette, when Hannah Gadsby shook comedy to its core; seeing the room drowned in purple for one of Prince’s final performances; or a legend like Stephen Hawking unfurling the secrets of the universe before us.
This is our way of looking back at the moments that changed us. We’re proud to have been home to so many of them over the years.
Hannah Gadsby is a force in stand-up, but not the kind you might recognise. So much of the form relies on routines where a comedian beats themselves or the audience up—gaffes about racial stereotypes, weight insecurities, or uncomfortable experiences on planes and in foreign countries.
With Nanette, which took the form of two live shows at the Sydney Opera House and a Netflix special, Gadsby rewrote the art of the punchline. She unravelled the homophobia, sexism and and violence felt throughout her life, in her home of Tasmania and on the mainland beyond. It might not be what we’re used to calling “comedy”, but it continues to move people to rethink their experiences and their prejudices against the world we share.
“Standup is, at its core, about an understanding of the power of shared space. Nanette takes that shared space and bursts it open.”
Prince’s final tour began in Australia, and continued for only five shows in Canada and the United States before the remaining were cancelled. His dual performances at the Opera House mark a bona fide moment in history. Proving it with just himself at a piano, the performances were a tribute to his entire creative life, bookended by ‘Love...Thy Will Be Done (a Martika cover) and ‘Purple Rain’—which he dedicated to Vanity, his former muse and partner who had passed away a week earlier.
His set was 28 songs deep and, for any Prince fan, a feast: classics like ‘Little Red Corvette’, audience join-in anthem ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore’, covers of Bob Marley and Ray Charles, and rock cuts like ‘Big City’ and ‘Screwdriver’ from HITnRUN Phase Two, his 39th and final studio album. Following these shows, Piano and a Microphone 1983 was released posthumously containing recordings from his archive ‘the Vault’ being released for the very first time—his last gift to us.
“U B nice to this building,” he said with one of his sly smiles after returning to the stage for his final encore.”
Sometimes, a show on the Concert Hall stage can become something closer to performance art. Headlining Vivid LIVE exclusively, Solange’s show was powerful as well as political. A sphere hung from the ceiling’s crown and two pyramids flanked the stage. In pure white, she, her dancers, and her band performed their way through her album A Seat At The Table, as well as songs from a career longer than most listeners would recognise.
Music festivals continue to struggle to accurately represent the diversity of their audiences, and for many Solange was a breakthrough. For so many people of colour it was more than just a headline show—it was a message that black art was not ignored, but was brilliant enough to be on the most prestigious stage of this country.
“The tickets were seated but she told us all to stand and dance ... Last night was a celebration of blackness and it was healing and affirming.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Stephen Hawking helped us understand a little more about our universe and ourselves. As a physicist and cosmologist, he proposed explanations for the origins of the universe and was fascinated by the behaviour and life of black holes.
In 2015 he joined us live via hologram, the first time it’s happened at the Opera House, together with his daughter Lucy and physicist Paul Davies on stage.
His humility, intelligence and humour broke down the mysteries of our world into stories we could understand—like One Direction.
Hawking passed away in March 2018, but his immense work continues to inform many fields in science.
Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies and Lucy Hawkins at the Sydney Opera House, 2015. Image: Prudence Upton
Vintage VHS music videos stretched above the stage, Ice Cube’s name erupted in flames, and ‘Westside’ signs ballooned to life. The Opera House has given rap a stage before, with the Wu-Tang Clan, Skepta, Lauryn Hill, Danny Brown, and even Kanye West. But Ice Cube's show represented more than just a sound.
Cube was a founding member of N.W.A., the rap group that put Compton on the map. Together with Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Arabian Prince, the four of them made the world pay attention to their small corner of Los Angeles and the injustices it battled every day: police brutality, racial profiling, and a lack of opportunities for young black people to escape the eternal loop of mass incarceration. To stand on a stage of the Opera House and make that statement is a powerful sign for the injustices against black people that continue to this day.
“Rap should have been in this building a long time ago...but we'll take it whenever we can get it.”
From 27 May – 18 June 2022, Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House will feature Australian premieres, one-off projects and unmissable performances from innovative Australian artists alongside select top global acts, emerging voices and Sydney’s vibrant local communities who reflect the city’s inimitable contemporary culture.