Backstage tour at Sydney Opera House

Went to this — which usually costs $150 — but was free because the Sydney Opera House was having an Open Day. Thousands turned up. I stood on the stage and saw the orchestra pits, the rehearsal room and backstage areas, green rooms, costume-making.

My favourite bit was reading the staff noticeboards and the many clippings from The Sydney Morning Herald (reviews and also smaller stories from the My Career section or other little features about lesser-known chorus or orchestra members). It was great to see these are so important and often took up one-third of the noticeboards! They’d also pinned up postcards or email printouts from audience members praising their performance — this pleased me as I do this after feeling inspired by a great show, so I wonder if my emails are printed and stuck up somewhere? Nice to see they’re appreciated.

I read the many MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) notices for the performers — I’ve been a member of this union for 27 years, since it was the AJA (Australian Journalists’ Union). It was interesting to read that the performers were complaining about employers wanting to pay them for only two hours of work (when they’re onstage).

I loved the elaborate costumes, wigs and dressmaking areas (I was specially looking for any “shortcuts” — eg. ermine trim, when viewed close up, was just strips of black drawn in on a white faux fur. Impossible to tell when you’re at a distance in the audience).

Looked at the Green Room and dressing room for John Cleese, also used by Stephen Fry, Oprah Winfrey, Cate Blanchett. There were two warm up rooms. The rehearsal room warns: “No jumping” during performance hours, as “everyone can hear you”.

It was great to see the chamber orchestra’s instruments and notices — people selling violins from $25,000 to $35,000. Ads for remedial massage, by an ex-ballet dancer — for ballerinas. And many ads for weight loss and a dessert tour (maybe both businesses are run by the same person!) There were also noise readings for the various instruments in the cramped orchestra pit — it said “over 85” was considered a hearing danger and many readings were just under that.

Wasn’t allowed to take photos. Some tourists were disappointed with the unfinished concrete beams inside (which are embossed with symbols) and I remember feeling that way when I first saw it, but this time it seemed a nice contrast to the 1 million shiny self-cleaning white exterior tiles which are all imported from Sweden. A nice little earner for the Scandinavians, thanks to architect Joern Utzon.

The design competition was held in 1957, with an estimated cost of  $7 million and it was completed in 1973, having cost $102 million. Wikipedia says: “The project was completed 10 years late and over-budget by more than 14 times.”

This famous protest incident in 2003 was the subject of many fundraisers held in Sydney for years, including selling snowdomes of the Opera House with the “No War” slogan painted on the side.

The tour finished with a filmed musical tribute, with Nick Cave’s The Ship Song.

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