Inner beauty of Opera House to be upgraded

Sarah McPhee
(Australian Associated Press)

Sydney’s Opera House has aged gracefully on the outside but inside it’s ready for a makeover.

The Joan Sutherland Theatre will go under the knife first up, at a cost of $45 million, with the whole Sydney Opera House facelift costing $273 million.

The JST’s curtains will close on the Australian Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker in May and reopen for Opera Australia’s New Year’s Eve gala, said SOH chief executive Louise Herron.

“On May 20, five months exactly shy of the Opera House’s 44th birthday, this theatre will close for the first time in its life and emerge seven months later match-fit and raring to go for 2018 and beyond,” she said on Wednesday.

Staging about 330 performances each year, the JST is the Opera House’s busiest theatre, but it still relies on original machinery including a 50-year-old ‘engine’ installed before the Sydney icon opened in 1973 which has reached the end of its operational life.

Improvements will include new stage lifts from Austria, lighting rigs and state-of-the-art sound and projection equipment.

The theatre’s clunky electric hoists and manual counter-weighted fly lines will also be replaced with lightweight electric-powered winches that will be quieter, safer and more reliable.

Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister said they’ll “happily miss” the sound of staging and backdrops flying out of the theatre.

An upgrade to the orchestra pit means musicians will be heard “in their full glorious sound”, said Mr McAllister, while open workspace will let backstage staff perform manoeuvres that “make all of the magic happen onstage”.

NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin said the government will throw in an extra $26 million to the renewal, particularly to improved accessibility.

The Australian Ballet and Opera Australia will continue performing at other venues including the Capital Threatre while the JST is closed.

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