The Wolanski Foundation Project


Sydney Opera House Story: a chronology 1606 to date





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The Sydney Opera House Story: 1970-1979

In response to visitor demand, this chronology has been compiled by Paul Bentley to record the story of the Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts, theatrical associations with the Bennelong Point site, Jørn Utzon’s involvement with the House and changes to the building.  It draws on and updates Philip Drew’s extensive chronology Utzon and the Sydney Opera House and a number of other sources. See also Sydney Opera House: an annotated list of sources

1606-1956 | 1957-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2005 | 2006-2007 | 2008 | 2009-2010 | 2011-2013 | 2014-



The Australia Council releases a report, Music in Australia: Needs and Prospects, by Roger Covell and others. The report recommends that a performing arts collection, similar to the library and museum at Lincoln Centre, be established at the Sydney Opera House and other performing arts centres being built in Australia. “Such a library keeps the centre active in its task of making these arts accessible to a wide public, even during those daylight hours when performances may be taking place in the centre’s halls. If the Sydney Opera House Trust can find space and the opportunity to take up [the suggestion] it will earn the gratitude of all generations of users of this centre”.  



Test concert given in the Music Room on 31 October. Presented by Musica Viva Australia, the performers include the Fidelio String Quartet, Lauris Elms and Donald Westlake. The first test concert in the Concert Hall takes place on 17 December with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Bernard Heinze.


  Test concert given in the Concert Hall on the afternoon of 17 December 1972 by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Bernard Heinze.



First test concert given in the Opera Theatre on 21 January features Donald Smith, Elizabeth Fretwell and members of the ABC National Training Orchestra, conducted by Robert Miller. This followed a second test earlier in the day in the Concert Hall featuring the same artists.



Frank Barnes appointed General Manager, after serving as Deputy General Manager and General Manager-Designate since April 1972, to succeed Stuart Bacon, who died In July 1973.  



First recital in the complex given by Romola Costantino in the Concert Hall to an invited audience on 10 April.  



Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts officially launched May 1973 in an office next to the Board Room, following a gift by Mr Dennis Wolanski. The Minister for Cultural Activities, Mr G. Freudenstein, speaking at a reception to acknowledge the gift, said: “It is hoped that the library will include not only reference books on the performing arts but also archives of Australia’s musical and theatrical history. From attics and storerooms and possibly some old wooden crates – anything which anyone has in this field would be welcome”. The Trust Chairman, Sir Phillip Baxter, added “[We want] letters, documents, photographs, relating to the theatre in Sydney from the time that The Recruiting Officer was first performed in Sydney in June 1789”.  


Jul 18

Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs in the Concert Hall as part of the 61st Annual Session of the Federation Dentaire Internationale and XXth Australian Dental Congress 15-20th July 1973. Under Willem Van Otterloo, the orchestra performs Robert Hughes' Sea Spell, commissioned for the occasion, Wagner's Prelude to Act 1 of Die Meistersinger and Brahms' Symphony No 4. A limited edition commemorative recording, the first commercial recording made at the Opera House, was later released at a price of $100, bearing the signatures of Willem Van Otterloo and the General Manager of the Opera House, Frank Barnes. A brief report of the concert appeared in Australian Dental Journal volume 13 number 4, August 1973. Mr Robert Ferguson, who attended the concert, has provided the Wolanski Foundation with personal reminiscences of the event.


Jul  19

World premier of the film Don Quixote, featuring Rudolf Nureyev, Lucette Aldous Sir Robert Helpmann and the Australian Ballet, presented in the Concert Hall on 19 July. In the same month, between 25 and 28 July, the operas The Fall of the House of Usher by Larry Sitsky and Dalgerie by James Penberthy were presented by the NSW State Conservatorium in the Opera Theatre. On 31 July, the operas Edward John Eyre by Barry Conyngham and Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell were presented by the University of New South Wales Opera in the Concert Hall. 


Jul 27 Sydney Opera House trustee Hedley Yelland states in his Report on the Objectives of the Educational Programme Committee: “As Australia’s most ambitious arts complex, the Opera House would appear to have a mandate to establish itself as a major centre for the study of the arts and the stimulation of experiment. In this connection it is essential that the Trust’s library be developed as soon as possible”.


First test performance in the Drama Theatre on 28 August with a program of Australian poems presented by the Old Tote Theatre Company. 



First event in the Exhibition Hall with the opening of All the World’s A Stage, mounted by the British Council and the Sydney Opera House Trust. Production: Robert Colligan. Research: Margaret Williams. Design: Yoshi Tosa. September 25.


First public performance in the Opera Theatre with the Australian Opera’s production of War and Peace, September 28.


First public performance in the Concert Hall given by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with soloist Birgit Nilsson and conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, September 29.


Oct 1  

First public performance in the Drama Theatre with the Old Tote Theatre Company’s production of Richard 11, directed by Robin Lovejoy, designed by Anne Fraser, and featuring John Gaden, Ron Haddrick, George Whaley, Drew Forsyth, Shane Porteous, Pamela Stephenson, Dinah Shearing and Ruth Cracknell


Oct 2  

First public performance in the Music Room presented by Musica Viva Australia with the Carl Pini Quartet, Romola Costantino and Walter Sutcliffe


Oct 5  

First public performance presented in the Recording Hall by the International Society for Contemporary Music, featuring trombonist Stuart Dempster and  produced by James Murdoch. 


Oct 20  

Official opening of the Opera House by Queen Elizabeth 11 in the afternoon. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh later attend the Royal Opening Concert performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Willem van Otterloo and featuring John Antill’s Jubugalee and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in D Minor.


Oct 21  

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are conducted on a tour of the building. 


Oct 22  

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh attend the Australian Opera’s production of The Magic Flute in the Opera Theatre.


Oct 28  

First major public attraction in the Reception Hall with an exhibition of paintings by Robert Emerson Curtis.



Stan Buckley succeeds Sir Philip Baxter as Chairman of the Trust


Dennis Wolanski Library & Archives of the Performing Arts moves to newly allocated space in the Exhibition Hall, December 1975.


Sir Robert Norman succeeds Stan Buckley as Chairman of the Trust.



Jørn Utzon, in interview with SOH Press Officer Ava Hubble, urges the establishment of a small museum in Sydney to house the plans for the building. “I would like people to be able to see my plans”.



Lloyd Martin appointed General Manager on 1 March to succeed Frank Barnes, who had suffered a serious illness in July 1978 and asked to be transferred to lighter duties at the NSW Public Service Board. Martin had served as Deputy General Manager from June 1973.


Music Room becomes the Cinema to acknowledge its use primarily for film screenings, although it continues to operate as a theatre.

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