This is Not an Opera House


When the actor John Malkovich appeared in The Giacomo Variations, a chamber-opera bio-play of Giacomo Casanova, at the Sydney Opera House in 2011, he wasn’t exactly seduced by the venue. “It’s lovely to drive by on a motor boat and it has a very nice crew and very capable, but the acoustics are hideous,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “For a catholicity of reasons, it’s not the wisest place to put on anything … with the possible exception of maybe a circus.”

Malkovich’s comments hit a sore point, not just for the Concert Hall, its largest performance space, but also for the building as a whole. Since being dreamed up 60 years ago, the site has inspired breathless arias of adulation (“On a moonlit night,” wrote Ruth Cracknell in her memoir, “one could die of excess”), countered by basso-profundo grumbles that its splendour is only as deep as its Sweden-sourced ceramic skin.

Conductor Sir Simon Rattle complained that the sound in the Concert Hall lacked richness and clarity, and came “from all sides”. Former Sydney Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Edo de Waart described the sound as “barren”, “cold” and “not alive”, and threatened to boycott the “ugly” venue. “[It’s] like you’re in a barn,” he said.

The same year as Casanova dropped in, the Concert Hall’s conjoined smaller sibling, the Opera Theatre (since renamed the Joan Sutherland Theatre) was voted the worst classical performance space in Australia in a Limelight magazine industry poll. (The Concert Hall itself came in 18th.) The Opera Theatre was inadequate for anything bigger than a Mozart opera buffa, said Scottish opera director David McVicar.

To read the full story, visit The Monthly.

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