A night at the Opera

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Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s iconic buildings; designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon who, at that time, was a relatively unknown young architect.  His dramatic concept, caught the eye of the judges of the international competition held to decide on a design.

Last time I was in Sydney (3 years ago) I joined a guided tour and also went to see a play  being shown in the Drama Theatre, one of the 4 smaller venues in the “basement” of the building, but wasn’t able to see a production in one of the large auditoria. So before we set out for Australia we checked the Opera House’s website and were able to get tickets for a night of opera in the main auditorium, the Concert Hall.

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We had a meal in one of the restaurants that line the east side of the Circular Quay and then headed over to the Opera House to have a look around inside the building before the start of the concert in areas only accessible for concert goers or on a guided tour.

There were views over the harbour from the large windows at the end of the building

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Inside the auditorium, ready for the concert to begin

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The main piece was a on Act opera by Bela Bartok based on the rather gruesome story of Bluebeard. A quite heavy piece and not exactly a light hearted pre-Christmas concert, but enjoyable nevertheless. I’m not really up to critiquing a serious Classical  concert but this review sums it up I think.

And after the concert

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A good experience and an enjoyable evening.

On the water in Sydney

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The roads in Sydney seem to be permanently congested. Even crossing the road in the Central business District seems to take forever as you wait for the pedestrian lights to turn to green. So getting around on the bus can be a slow process. Sydney is built on the water, which is a big contributor to the congestion, but the city take advantage of this by having a network of cream and green ferries centring on the Circular Quay. It’s a fun way to travel too, providing a different perspective of the city from the water.

On the second morning of our time in Sydney we walked over to Darling Harbour to take a look at the redeveloped docklands and also to catch the ferry round to the Circular Quay.

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Darling Harbour, which is to the west of the Circular Quay, used to be part of the port of Sydney and the site of the NSW Railways central marshalling yards and freight consolidation centre. In the 1980’s when the port declined the harbour became largely derelict. However, in recent years, like many former harbours round the world, it has been redeveloped and reinvented as an area of leisure pursuits and tourist attractions. So today it’s the location of tourist attractions including the Australian National Maritime Museum, a Sealife Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World and a branch of Madame Tussards. It’s also the site of the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre and a number of hotels. The quays are also lined with bars and restaurants.

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We walked along the harbour to the ferry terminal at Barangaroo. A lot of (controversial)development with glass and concrete skyscrapers is taking place at this eastern end of the harbour which was once lined with dock labourers searching for work

We didn’t have long to wait for a ferry and set off on the route that called at Balmain East, McMahons Point, Milsons Point and then Circular Quay.

It was a lovely, sunny morning, although with a stiff breeze the water was a little choppy. but I managed to snap a few decent photos.

Looking back to Barangaroo

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The Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the west

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Coming in to  McMahons Point – lots of fancy yachts moored up here.

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Luna Park at Milsons Point

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Sailing under the bridge

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Past the Opera House

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Approaching Circular Quay

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We took the ferry back to Darling Harbour a couple of times and also sailed the longer route across to Manly. An inexpensive way to take a tour of the Harbour!

 

Badu Gili

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While we were passing the Opera House during our wander around Sydney Cove during the first morning of our holiday, we’d spotted a poster advertising a light show during the evening

Badu Gili – meaning ‘water light’ in the language of the traditional owners of Bennelong Point, the Gadigal people – is a new daily experience that explores ancient First Nations stories in a spectacular seven-minute projection, illuminating the Opera House’s eastern Bennelong sail year-round at sunset and 9pm.

So, after we’d had a couple of hours rest and something to east back at our apartment, we headed back down to the Circular Quay, arriving at the Opera House just before the show was due to start.

I took a few photos during the show, but mainly concentrated and watching the animation of indigenous art by Jenuarrie (Judith Warrie), Frances Belle Parker, Alick Tipoti and the late Lin Onus and Minnie Pwerle, projected onto the roof. But here’s a You Tube film of the show

Afterwards we walked around the Quay to take in night-time views of the Opera House, Bridge and CBD

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Sydney Cove

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Where to start writing up our trip to Australia? At the beginning, I suppose. On the first morning of our 5 day stay we headed down to Sydney Cove which was also where the city began – it was here that the colony was established in 1788 with the arrival of a First Fleet of British ships. Today it’s where most of the main attractions are located and the jumping off point for many others. The Opera House and Botanic Gardens on the east side and the Rocks and Harbour Bridge to the west.

We were staying in an “appart-hotel” near the Town Hall in the Central Business District (CBD). It was about a 20 minute walk down to the Circular Quay at the southern end of the cove, which is the hub of the city transport network of trains, buses and ferries. We’d passed through the evening before when we’d arrived and were taking a train from the airport to the Town Hall so we could check in our hotel. The train station is elevated and as our train pulled into the station we had a view of the Opera House and Bridge all lit up.

The morning was a little grim with grey skies and the weather forecast for the week didn’t look too promising. Fortunately that proved to be wrong as it brightened up during the day and was sunny and warm for most of the five days we were there.

Arriving at the Circular Quay we walked round to the west side of the cove to get a view of the Opera House and the see the Harbour bridge at close quarters. To do that we had to walk past the cruise terminal where a monstrous cruise liner was moored up. There was one there every day blocking the view across the cove from the west to some extent and presenting an unwelcome distraction when looking across from the east side. There was one of these monsters there every day, arriving during the night and departing in the evening. But I guess the mooring fees make a packet for the city.

We walked round past Campbell’s Cove jetty and the Hyatt Hotel to the Hickson Road Reserve, a small park facing the Opera House and with a close up view of the bridge.

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After taking in the view we walked back through the Rocks – a historic working class area established shortly after the colony’s formation. Today it’s largely a tourist “attraction” with shops, cafes and bars so we stopped off for a “flat white” – a shot of caffeine was needed to overcome some of the jet lag.

We spent a little time looking round the Rocks (more of that in another post) before walking round to the other side of the Cove to take a closer look at the Opera House (another post about that iconic building to come).

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Then on to the Botanic Gardens to the east, a beautiful, well kept park that extends around the bay to the viewpoint at Mrs Macquaries point.

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We had a drink and bite to eat in the rather excellent Botanic Gardens cafe and then walked round the bay to take in the iconic view of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge in the background. Grey skies didn’t show this off to it’s best but still a “view to die for”

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and there were good views too of the skyscrapers of the CBD

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Back round through the gardens, we noticed signs for something called the Calyx, so we thought we’d investigate. It was a new attraction which opened in June 2016 to celebrate the Royal Botanic Gardens’ 200th birthday, so after my previous visit 3 years ago.  It’s essentially a large glass house with a collection of 18,000 plants, which are arranged as living artworks on a “green wall” 6 metres high and 50 metres long. The current exhibition focuses on the theme of Pollination

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The afternoon wasn’t over yet, but I think this post has gone on long enough. So, to be continued ………..

Sydney Opera House

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One of the first things I had to do when I arrived in Sydney, after I’d settled into my apartment, was to head out to the Harbour to take in the view of the iconic building that is the Sydney Opera House. Standing on Bennelong Point, a peninsula jutting out into Sydney Harbour, it’s hard to miss with it’s giant “sails” seemingly floating in the water.

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The building was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon who, at that time, was a relatively unknown young architect.  But his dramatic concept, caught the eye of the judges of the international competition held to decide on a design.

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The Opera House’s website tells us

Utzon’s competition entry was a schematic design, clearly explaining the concept for the building. The sketches and “geometrically undefined” curves of course needed to be developed for the building to be built. This is quite normal for competition projects. Utzon himself was sure it could be built and in the pioneering spirit present in Sydney at the time, construction went ahead.

So they didn’t really know how they were going to build it when they started!

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Working with the project’s structural engineers, Ove Arup and partners, Utzon had to find a solution. The original concept was that the shells would be sections of a parabola, but this presented major construction difficulties. They eventually came up with a simpler solution based a sphere, which meant that different sized sections could be cast from the same mould on site.

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The “shells” are precast concrete panels supported by precast concrete ribs.

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On a sunny day the shells look brilliant white. The American architect Louis Kahn is often quoted as remarking:

The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.

However, although the shells appear uniformly white from a distance, their surface is covered with 1,056,006 tiles in two colours: glossy white as well as matte cream. The tiles were manufactured by the Swedish company Höganäs AB.

the top surface of the shells is covered with a weatherproof membrane, a series of precast panels matching the rib segments and covered with white glazed tiles. All the materials are non-corrosive, weather resistant, durable, and will age and acquire a patina without changing their character. (Jørn Utzon, ‘Descriptive Narrative, Sydney Opera House’, January 1965 in Sydney Opera House Utzon Design Principles, May 2002)

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Utzon never got to see the finished building. Following a change of government in New South Wales, there was a “fall out” about the cost of the scheme and the design of the interior which led to Utzon leaving the project (did he resign or was he sacked?). An Australian architect, Peter Hall, was appointed to complete the building and was responsible for the design of the interior.

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I decided to join one of the hour long guided tours of the building which allow visitors access to the inside of the building. We were able to look inside some of the performance spaces and saw the ballet dancers rehearsing for the Nutcracker. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed inside the concert halls and theatres. So the following picture of the interior of the Concert Hall is from Wikipedia.

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We were able to see the concrete ribs and other structural elements

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and were treated to a fantastic view of the Harbour and the Harbour Bridge through the huge glass curtain walls that face onto the water.

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I would have liked to have experienced a production in one of the two large halls – the Concert Hall or the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible as nothing was scheduled for the former and although the Nutcracker ballet was taking place in the latter it was sold out. However I was able to get a ticket for a play being shown in the Drama Theatre, one of the other 4 smaller venues. Switzerland was a two hander produced by the Sydney Theatre Company about the American author, Patricia Highsmith, the creator of The Talented Mr Ripley. It was a good production and very entertaining – with elements of mystery, psychological drama and comedy. Sarah Peirse as Patricia Highsmith was excellent.