5 weird and wonderful things you might not know about the Sydney Opera House!
Here at Opera Bar we’re extraordinarily lucky to have one of the most celebrated architectural masterpieces in the world, the Sydney Opera House, at our doorstep.
Even after numerous visits to 20th century icon, the Opera House has so much history, most only know snippets from whole story, and some of the crazy statistics behind Sydney’s most beloved (and at times controversial) landmark.
For example, how much did the Opera House cost to build, really? $102 million (if you’ve ever taken the Opera House’s awesome guided tour, you may know this one!)
Here are five fascinating facts about the Opera House most people have never heard:
Paul Robeson was the first person to Perform at Opera House in November 1960 when it was little more than a building site. The visiting American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson scaled the scaffolding to sing Ol’ Man River in his booming baritone to a mob of construction workers.
The first public performance at the House was the Australian Opera’s take on Prokofiev’s epic War and Peace on 28 September 23 1973, a month before the House’s official opening by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2007, the House was declared a World Heritage Site, making it the youngest ever be included on the list, and only of two cultural sites inducted while the architect (Jørn Utzon, 1918-2008) was still alive.
The Opera House joins the likes of the Taj Mahal, Machu Pichu and the Great Wall of China as one of the most outstanding examples of our civilization’s cultural achievements. According to UNESCO, its inclusion was based on “…a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on the emergent architecture of the late 20th century”.
A wild New Zealand fur seal has been regularly spotted sunbathing on the Opera House’s northern VIP steps since 2014. Nicknamed ‘Benny’ after Bennelong Point, he has appeared alongside Homer Simpson in a cartoon created for GRAPHIC Festival 2016 by Matt Groening.
In one day, a stagehand working in the Opera Theatre walks an average of 18,681 steps, or 13km, that’s just walking around the venue, assembling sets, props and lighting, testing machinery and Macgyvering equipment on the fly.
Although the ‘shells’ of the Opera House resemble sails of a ship, the building’s design was actually inspired by nature. Architect Jorn Utzon says he was more influenced by birds, clouds, walnuts and trees. Devising the roof sails proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the process. The problem was, no one had ever attempted such an out-there design before engineers blasted it as ‘unbuildable’.
As one of the more popular myths has it, Utzon was supposedly struck with an epiphany as he sat peeling an orange and admiring its segmented structure. Like an orange, a geometrical sphere can be carved into a limitless variety of interlocking curved triangles. Fourteen curved triangular segments would form the Opera House’s iconic roof. If you were to stick them back together, they would form a perfect symmetrical sphere.
While it’s true that the solution can be demonstrated in this way, it had in fact been architect Eero Saarinen who, over breakfast one morning years earlier, cut into a grapefruit to describe the thin shell structure of the roof of his TWA Building, and later used an orange to explain the shape of the shells to others.