Our storyFive decades of storytelling
We’ve come a long way since that windy October afternoon in 1973 when Queen Elizabeth II stood on the Forecourt of the new Sydney Opera House and declared the building open. Thousands of performances, millions of visitors and countless photographs later, this enchanting masterpiece has evolved into a living work of art that belongs to us all.
In 2023, we marked our 50-year anniversary by looking back on how far we’d come — and also to give our audiences a taste of where we’re going next. About 230 events took place on our stages, on the Forecourt and online. The program consisted of First Nations storytelling, free events, international artists, kids programming, tours, public art, concerts, exhibitions and resident company collaborations in a rolling celebration of contemporary culture.
The season began in October 2022 with From the Sails: Light Years, a new audiovisual experience projected on to the building itself. Created by Sam Doust and Art Processors, it told the story of the Opera House from construction to the present day. The curtain then lifted on 12 months of activity, from Forecourt concerts (Vance Joy, the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, Ngaiire and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Tim Minchin and more) to electrifying Concert Hall performances by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, to Amadeus, an acclaimed new adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s classic starring Michael Sheen as Salieri and Rahel Romahn as Mozart. In May, more than 25,000 people attended our seven-day festival Inside/Out at the House, with concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra and resident companies inside the building that were broadcast simultaneously to audiences on the Forecourt.
These events culminated in October with the Birthday Festival, a month-long series of free community events, world premieres, contemporary performances and public art. Highlights included Taylor Mac’s Bark of Millions, Kate Prince’s Message in a Bottle, the return of Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, a panel discussion with Jan and Lin Utzon, and an inclusive community performance called What Is the City but the People?. Whispers, an artwork by Quandamooka artist Megan Cope, evoked the long traditions of Tubowgule with tens of thousands of kinyingarra (oysters) on the Monumental Steps and Northern Broadwalk. Then in October, some 30,000 people made their way through the building for Open House Weekend, a free weekend of exploration and discovery.
Also in our anniversary year, we worked with Museums of History NSW on a new exhibition The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50. The show featured a fascinating display of costumes, posters, programs, architectural drawings and photographs across more than five decades of Opera House history.
We unveiled Transcendence: 50 years of unforgettable moments at the Sydney Opera House, a new book published by Thames & Hudson. Fifty artists — among them Simone Young, Nick Cave, Sylvie Guillem, Briggs, Baz Luhrmann, Carlotta and Barrie Kosky – shared memories from a building that embodies the contemporary Australian experience.
And we presented a new film, Play it Safe, in honour of the bold, visionary experiment that is the Opera House itself. Written by Australian singer Tim Minchin, the song is a musical homage to a building that tested the limits of engineering and design, forever changing the face of Sydney. The film features appearances from the extended Opera House family, including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Ballet, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Ziggy Ramo, Zahra Newman (Sydney Theatre Company), John Bell (Bell Shakespeare), the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Elma Kris (Bangarra Dance Theatre), Kira Puru, Cathy-Di Zhang (Opera Australia), William Barton, Courtney Act, Jimmy Barnes, Sydney Dance Company Pre Professional Year Students and Associate Artists, Lucy Guerin dancers and DirtyFeet dancers.
Play It Safe
Music and lyrics: Tim Minchin
Director: Kim Gehrig
Executive Music Producer/Arranger: Elliott Wheeler
Cinematographer: Stefan Duscio
Creative Agency: The Monkeys, part of Accenture Song
A Revolver X Somesuch Production
Conductor, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs: Brett Weymark OAM
Choreography: Lucy Guerin
Choreography of Bangarra Dance Theatre: Stephen Page
DirtyFeet Rehearsal Assistant: Sarah-Vyne Vassallo
Presented by Sydney Opera House in partnership with Tourism Australia.