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The Sydney Opera House Story: 2009-2010

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 and associated projects within the context of the Sydney Opera House story, 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-


Mar 21 Jonathan Dart reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that the NSW Government has agreed to fund the "$1 billion project to bring the Sydney Opera House in line with its designer's vision." He says although the deal has yet to be signed by the Opera House board, Treasury officials indicated two weeks ago that the Government was willing to provide the money needed for the restoration. Restoration plans, he says, include dropping the Opera Theatre floor 18 metres in a bid to increase performing space and seating capacity and expand the orchestra pit. Plans also include construction of new wings, installation of a new air-conditioning system and provision of disabled access. However, a spokesman for the Premier, Nathan Rees, said Government plans are only an in-principle agreement. "It is certainly not a done deal." The Daily Telegraph reports that the issue was before the budget committee and the State Government expected to draft a formal approach to the Federal Government to share the cost.,   


Mar 23 The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has killed off the idea of Federal Government support. Opera House sources, it says, confirmed that that they had no idea the Government proposed to announce plans for the renovation and they thought making the plan public had backfired because it did not allow sufficient time to properly consult Mr Rudd.


Mar 24 The Sydney Morning Herald, in its leader column, criticises the NSW Government over its negotiations with the Federal Government. Despite the lack of publicly available plans and details, it says "a way must be be found to proceed with these renovations, even if it means reviving the Opera House lottery, the clever device that funded it in the first place." Chief Executive Richard Evans, in a news item in the same edition, says that the House is in such disrepair it could be forced to close show if it doesn't receive the renovation funds. 


Mar 25

Jørn Utzon State Memorial Concert held in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall from 11 am. Broadcast on ABC radio and television, the program included David Page dancing Black Mist, Lorina Gore singing the aria Between Earth and Sky from Alan John's The Eighth Wonder, The presto movement from Sinfonia in B minor (CPE Bach), played by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Ursula Yovich singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Neil Finn saying Don't Dream It's Over, Paul Lewis and the SSO performing the Largo from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 1 in C, Op 15, Nicole Youl and the Opera Australia Chorus since the Easter Hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, and David Drury at the organ playing the Prelunde from JS Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV541.



Speakers included SOH chief executive Richard Evans and chairman Kim Williams, Australian Ballet Artistic Director David McAllister, John Bell reading a tribute by David Malouf, the Federal Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, Cate Blanchett reciting Fear No More the Heat of the Sun from Cymberline, NSW Premier Nathan Rees, Lorna Marshall (whose mother had worked on the project as a computer operator with Ove Arup & Partners), Architect Richard Johnson, and Jan and Lin Utzon, whose tribute was simple and eloquent.



David Malouf's in his tribute, How an Angel at Bennelong Point Gave Sydney its Spirit, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, reflected on Utzon's architectural achievement and impact on the city. "When Utzon's necessary angel alighted at Bennelong Point, the whole inner city shifted its ground. Circular Quay, The Rocks, Woolloomooloo and Walsh Bay took on a new existence. Macquarie Street Found a goal, come what was always meant to be, a grand boulevard running from Hyde Park to the ware. And the lightness, the exuberance and fantasy the building embodies and so powerfully spoke up for, provided a new vision of what a water city - and specifically this city, all light and vertical light and air - might aspire to be: a playground of the spirit, a model of how the useful and necessary may also, within the rules become pure play."



David Malouf's final sentences fittingly summed up the mood of the occasion: "Like all true works of art, Utzon's great house and explosive sculptural ensemble was a gift. Our role as the receivers of its is to honour the gift with our affectionate gratitude, and be taking it in to our lives and using it as it was designed to be used and passing it on". The historical myths perpetuated by the speechwriters of politicians and chairmen, the lack of published plans for the renovations awaiting new funds, and the irony of a ceremony for Jørn Utzon in Peter Hall's hall were stories for another day.


Mar 26

Jan Utzon, interviewed in the the Sydney Morning Herald on the day of the memorial concert, says "Plans to bring the Opera Theatre to international standards now lie in a drawer." Nathan Rees and Peter Garrett would not make any further commitments, but Richard Evans expressed the view that "the wonderful plans Jørn developed with Jan would be build one day". 


Mar 28

David Marr. in Snatched from the Jaws of Victory, details political and bureaucratic machinations to gain Federal Government support for refurbishments. Bob Carr said that he initially tested prospects "with a resigned sense that it wasn't going to happen" and still has doubts that the overhaul is the way to go. Former federal minister, Helen Coonan, is reported as saying that she had hoped to announce Canberra's support for the project when the building was given World Heritage listing in mid-2007, but 'there were doubts that NSW would come to the party. Instead John Howard indicated support for the refurbishment would form of the Liberal Party's arts policy for the election in 2008, but in the end the government released no arts policy. Prime Minister Rudd has flagged his scepticism about the proposal. But, Marr concludes, "there's a kind of bleak confidence at Bennelong Point" that in due course the Federal-State partnership will eventuate.  


Jul 10 Sir Edward Downes CBE (17 June 1924 – 10 July 2009), who conducted the first public performance in the Opera Theatre (Australian Opera’s production of War and Peace, September 28) dies with his wife in an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. According to a statement issued his children, Downes was able to go on living with his deafness and blindness, he did not want to do so after his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer.


Aug 13 Elizabeth Farrelly is critical of the "latest meddling with the Opera House" in  Babylonian Fantasy Land Emerges from Reservoir (SMH). "The best things are always ruined," she says.. "Often we start with something wonderful then, with enormous care and expense, wreck it.

You recall that squat little no-neck smokers' shelter they clagged onto its western flank a couple of years back? It contradicts the very idea of a building whose entire point - shells above, folded plane below - is to prove columns unnecessary. Now the no-neck has metastasised, providing a cosmetic armature for a row of airport-style serveries in the new strung-together foyer. The high point is the liftwell, which offers, at least, some real off-form concrete. Otherwise, all is blond on blond; half-round timber battens stuck on cheap white plasterboard like a bad copy of some dullsville Copenhagen furniture showroom. Come back Peter Hall. All is forgiven.

"It comes heavy-blessed, of course, by Utzon himself, and designed by Utzon-fils, Jan, with our very own Richard Johnson. While Jan Utzon has no particular distinction beyond the genetic (and a lovely smile), Johnson has delivered some terrific buildings (Governor Phillip Tower, the new Hilton). But also some dogs, including the Westpac building on Kent and the Commonwealth Bank's proposed ''Money Box'' on Martin Place, for which the Central Sydney Planning Committee last week broke its own height rules, spot-zoning for an extra 10 storeys."


Aug 19 Catherine Munro in Pipe Dreams and Passion (Sydney Morning Herald) reports problems with the Sydney Opera House organ. "The king of Bennelong has been neglected lately. In June the atmosphere in the concert hall became too dry and [organist David] Drury was forced to cancel his performance for fear of malfunction. Organ fans arrived for the daytime recital only to be turned alway. "We have never had to cancel a concert before," Drury said. "The situation has been rectified with humidifiers, says the chief executive, Richard Evans. "It would be true to say that there's a renewed interest in how we maintain the organ...If you are going to have an instrument like this, you have to look after it."


Sep 10 Josephine Tovey (Filling in the Doughnuts to Give the Hall a Sweeter Sound) reports on the work of architect Larry Kierkegaard in developing proposals to improve the acoustics of the Concert Hall, subject to Government funding. [SMH].


Oct 07

Malcolm Leslie Challenger (1917-2009) dies four days before his ninety-second birthday. Born on 11 October 1917, Mr Challenger was among the first group of ten people to be employed under the first General Manager, Stuart Bacon, at the Trust's offices in Bridge Street, Sydney, before the administration moved to Bennelong Point to prepare the Opera House opening. He served in a managerial role, as Secretary, until 1975..


Oct 22 Lyle Frances Harris (1914-2009) dies three weeks before her ninety-fifth birthday. Mrs Harris was also among the first group of ten people to be employed under Stuart Bacon at Bridge Street. Her husband was the late Sydney journalist, music and drama critic Frank Harris. She joined the staff of the Dennis Wolanski Library in the mid-1970s and, on her retirement, continued to work as a volunteer in the library until it was closed in 1997.An avid reader and lover of the arts, she lived the last years of her life on a diet of Shostakovich.  


Nov 17 Elizabeth Farrelly, in Still Waiting for That Moment, Or Did Utzon Have the Last Laugh After All, comments on $38 million refurbishment of western foyer and installation of two new escalators leading from the main box office level to the concert hall and opera theatre and a public lift. "The result is that the Sydney Opera House is an undeniably glorious object, the internal experience of which is about as transcendental as speech day in the school hall...The ongoing trickle of opera-house tinkerings -toilets, colonnade, foyers, access - as graciously undertaken by Utzon pere et fils can never seen as anything but trivial. Some parts, like the western foyers and the Utzon Room, are quite nicely done, in a sensible shoes sort of way. Some, like the colonnade, are much less convincing than their rhetoric (in this case shading the glass, reducing flare and sustaining the visual solidity of the "Mayan" platform, even while it is perforated. [SMH]


Nov 18

The Sydney Morning Herald, in is leader The Opera House is Worth a Facelift, applauds recent work, including the provision of access for the disabled. It calls for the proposed overhaul of the Opera Theatre to proceed, supported by both State and Federal funding and the proceeds of a lottery..


Nov 18 Adam Fulton reports on the new refurbishment and the appointment of Louise Sauvage as "accessibility ambassador" in Opera House Takes Next Step for Those Less Mobile. [SMH]


Nov 18 Jan Utzon, in Even Icons Have to Move with the Times, comments on "the most improvements since my father was reengaged by the NSW Government...The changes to the western foyers have also fully exploited the setting, transforming the space into a light and attractive area that is better connected to the stunning surroundings...There will always be a small group which believes certain buildings should remain frozen in time. The reality is that buildings evolve." [SMH]


Nov 24 Trent Park photographs. Adam Fulton, in Out of the Shadows: Artistic Underbelly Sees the Light, reports on an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs by Trent Park, displayed along the western broadwalk. [SMH]


Nov 25 Sean Nichols, in Utzon's Son Signs Up for September 11 Conspiracy Theory, reports an interview by American architect Richard Gage on YouTube in which Jan Utzon endorses the call by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth for an inquiry into the collapse of the three buildings. "I have an inborn sense [that] that what is coming out in the media is slightly, or to a large extent, a distorted  version of what actually happened."


  Malcolm Brown, in A Mini-plot in the Sage of the Opera House, in recounting the story of the Concert Hall grand organ, draws parallels with the experience of the organ builder Ron Sharp and the architect Jørn Utzon.
Dec 8 Brian Robins and Joyce Morgan report that talks about an overhaul of the Opera Theatre between the federal and state governments had stalled. It also reports advice from the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, that any work on mitigating an increasing number of technical failures would be a short-term solution only.
Dec 15 Greenpeace activists display a banner one one of the sails of the Opera House to demand results from teh Copenhagen climate summit. Police removed the banner and took two men and three women to the police station at the Rocks [SMH 16 Dec 2009]




Feb 18 Keith Yates. Funeral service is held at Northern Suburbs Crematorium for Keith Yates, deputy technical manager and technical manager of the Sydney Opera House (1973-1990), who died on 12 February after a long illness.


Mar 10

Opera House influence? Martin Mitternacht, in A Startling Coincidence of Opera House Inspiration?, reports speculation by Philippe Mora about the similarities between the Sydney Opera House and Otto Bartning's 1922 architectural model for The Sternkirche (Star Church,


Mar 24 UNSW Utzon Lecture Series. Jan Utzon presents first lecture in the University of New South Wales 2010 Utzon Lecture series in honour of Jørn Utzon.


Mar 25 Bill Fisher 1926-2010. An obituary by John Shields and Lance Wright on the late William Kenneth (Bill) Fisher, who served for 12 years as a trustee of Sydney Opera House Trust..

Apr 20 Oliver Shaul (1923-2010). Death of Oliver Shaul reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. As well as running the Summit and other restaurants, Mr Shaul won the first tender to establish and run catering and the Bennelong Restaurant at the Opera House in 1973. See also the obituary in the SMH 27 April 2010.


Jun Ken Woolley, in his new book Review the Performance: the Design of the Sydney Opera House asserts that it was, and is, impossible to build the Opera House as it was designed. He concludes that the Opera House Technical Committee was out of its depth and responsible for the mess and that Utzon had not resolved the design problems when he departed. If the major hall had been built to Utzon’s specifications it would have been disastrous...The geometric impediments in the Opera House can never be overcome. Woolley is also critical of work during the past decade. “The refurbishments said to be endorsed by Utzon three years before is death are very disappointing.” There has been a lack of public comment. “Debate has been discouraged at the Opera House. The myth-making that that has obscured the real issues may never be unravelled.” On the other hand, “the paradox is that, despite the pain, the Sydney Opera House emerges triumphant from these contradictions.” Elizabeth Farrelly concludes, in her review of the book in The Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum 12-13 June 2010: "In the end it was Utzon's successor, Peter Hall, who pinpointed the conundrum and suggested moving opera to the smaller hall so that at least the building could be built. This was his great contribution and we should thank him for it.".


Jun 02 Opera House maintenance. Andrew Clennell, in $130 Million Budget Package Will Rescue the Opera House (Daily Telegraph), anticipates an announcement of funding for capital works in the NSW State Government budget. On 8 June, the Government confirms the allocation of $153 million for work on a tunnel from Macquarie Street to a new underground loading dock, other tunnels for food and beverage deliveries, and a new scenery platform lift. The work is scheduled to begin in 2011 for completion in mid-2013. [SMH],


Jun 17 Opera House at Barangaroo? Elizabeth Farrelly, in What Would Macquarie Have Done to Make Barangaroo Great?, makes for a plea fir an opera house as part of the Barangaroo development. "What we should have her, of course, is not some trumped-up library, gallery of auditorium that no one wants but an opera house, one that works, built with the $700 million earmarked for Bennelong Point. [SMH]


Jul 06

Sydney Opera House appoints Fergus Linehan as its Head of Contemporary Music. Linehan, a former Director of Sydney Festival (2006-2009), has been assisting the House as its International Program Advisor. In his new role he will divide his time between Sydney and London.


Jul 14 Sir Charles Mackerrass (1925-2010) dies. Sir Charles conducted the first official concert in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on 29 September 1973.


Aug Marina Kamenev, in Sydney Opera House: the Real Issues [Limelight], reports on $152 million renovations underway, including excavation of a new access road and loading deck under the forecourt, diversion of the Bennelong Dam and remediation of the existing road new the entrance.
Aug 29 Lis Utzon, wife of Jørn Utzon, dies. See obituary Discreet Presence Kept Family Together in Eye of a Media Storm by Hariett Vietch (Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Sep 2010,


Sep 08 Boral announces the closure of the timber mill at Maxwells Creek in the north-west of NSW, the source of laminated timer in the concert hall and main foyer of the Sydney Opera House. [SMH, 8 Sep 2010]


Oct 16 Photographer Jozef Visel recounts the story behind his famous 'gull's wing' portrait of Jørn Utzon. Utzon had requested Visel to base the portrait on a 1938 stop-motion photograph of a golfer swinging his club. Utzon's face was photographed first, then covered in a black cloth, then his hands were shot moving upwards to draw the shape of gull's wings. [The Australian Weekend Magazine 16-17 Oct 2010]
Oct 26 Sydney Opera House announces new round of staff restructuring to save $2 million and "reposition itself in a rapidly changing performing arts environment." It has appointed Jonathan Bielski executive producer of Sydney Opera House Presents to oversee the increasing emphasis on Opera House presentations over its hall-for-hire role. Two executives have left the organisation and their positions abolished - Head of Performing Arts (Rachel Healy) and Director of Commercial and Operations (Maria Sykes). [Sydney Morning Herald] 


Oct 30 Jan Utzon assaulted in an unprovoked attack outside Manly Lodge Hotel. The 27-year old assailant is subsequently arrested and charged to appear in Manly Local Court in December [The Age, 1 Nov and Daily Telegraph 2 Nov]
Nov 09 Dame Joan Sutherland state memorial service held in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. Tributes were made by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Governor of NSW Marie Bashir, the former artistic director of Opera Australia Moffatt Oxenbould, and Dame Joan's son, Adam Bonynge. The memorial also featured works performed by an Opera Australia chorus, the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, and video clips from Dame Joan's performances at the Sydney Opera House. [SMH 10 Nov 2010]




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