The Wolanski Foundation Project


Sydney Opera House Story: a chronology 1606 to date





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The Sydney Opera House Story: 2000-2005

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-




Jul 29  

Second production of The Eight Wonder opens in Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House. The character of the Architect is played by Grant Smith. Conductor: Richard Gill.

Aug 18  

Olympic Arts Festival opens with Opera Australia’s production of Don Giovanni by Mozart.


Sep 15  

Opening ceremony of Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the XXXV11 Olympiad, at Stadium Australia. Sydney Opera House used as the venue for the Triathlon course on Sep 16-17.



Utzon’s son, architect Jan Utzon, spends two weeks in Sydney making a video of all the important spaces within the Sydney Opera House for use by his father in preparing his Design Principles  



Yuzo Mikami publishes Utzon’s Sphere: Sydney Opera House> (Shokokuska Japan, distributed by Tower Books). See review by Paul Bentley. See also review by Philip Drew in The Weekend Australian 13-14 April 2002.


Mar 07  

Richard Weston’s new publicationUtzon, Inspiration, Vision, Architecture is published by Edition Bløndal, Hellerup, Denmark for 1250 DK krona ($380). See reviews: The Bulletin 14 May 2002; Sydney Morning Herald 11 June 2002.


Mar 20  

NSW Government announces plans for $24.1 million upgrade for improvements to the forecourt, expansion of the Opera theatre orchestra pit and improvements to the Concert Hall acoustics. 


Apr 05  

Jørn Utzon talks to Giles Tremlet on his new role for the Sydney Opera House Trust in newspaper article The Architect Returns in the Sydney Morning Herald. (reprinted from The Guardian, 2 April 2002). 


Apr 17  

Pianist Roger Woodward announces 13th Sydney Spring Festival will not go ahead due to lack of funds and the high cost of hiring the Sydney Opera House Studio.

Apr 27  

Henry Dunker Cultural Centre opens in Helsingbørg, Sweden.Designed by Jørn Utzon’s son, Kim, following an international architecture competition, the centre houses the Helsingbørg Town Museum, Arts Museum, School of Music and Cultural Centre for Children and Young People, Concert Hall and Theatre, Studios and Workshops, Restaurants, cafes and shops. Henry Dunker (1870-1962), the man behind the Dunker Foundation, established Tretorn, manufacturer of rubber goods from galoshes to car tyres. On his death, he gave 58 million Swedish krona to be used for cultural purposes. According to Henryk Sten Møller in Politken 30 January 2002: “This art centre in the city is really a radiant portal to the harbour, the sea and the sky, from where you can look directly towards Kronborg Castle…Thanks to Dunkers Kulturhus, you see a new opening in the new city planning.


May 06

Sydney Opera House Trust receives two Helpmann Awards, presented by the Australian Entertainment Industry Association: Best Special Event (Buena Vista Social Club, presented on the Forecourt), and Best Live Music presentation (Capsis vs Capsis, presented in the Studio). 


May 23

CEO Michael Lynch announces resignation following his appointment as chief executive of London's South Bank Centre.


May 29

NSW government announces additional funding of $45 million for major venue improvements following the release by the Sydney Opera House Trust of Utzon Design Principles and Venue Improvement Plan.  Premier Bob Carr says: "Today is a gesture of reconciliation because the architect was sent packing".  In addition to projects announced in March, work will include a Western Broadwalk colonnade and Reception Hall improvements. Proposals in the Venue Improvement Plan suggest that the Opera Theatre interiors will be redesigned in accordance with Utzon's original proposal for the Major Hall interiors (now the Concert Hall). 


Jun 11

Elizabeth Farrelly criticises Venue Improvement Plan in Sydney Morning Herald article Our Chance to Make a Real Difference. "For the Carr Government to have inveigled Jørn Utzon back into the Opera House project is a coup. But the most dramatic result will be a sad little colonnade".


Sep 08 Norman Gillespie announced as new CEO to replace Michael Lynch.


Nov Peter Myers in Utzon's Return (Architecture Australia Nov/Dec 2002: pages 74-77) looks at the Utzon Design Principles and Venue Improvement Plan and outlines the significance of both.


Mar 20 Anti-Iraq war protesters paint No War on the largest shell of the House, attracting security concerns.


Mar 25 Sydney University announces that it will award an honorary degree to Jørn Utzon.


May 15 The Sydney Opera House is to be considered again for World Heritage listing, reports the Courier Mail. A consultancy team will draw up plans for the submission.


May 22 Jørn Utzon awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture. In a ceremony at Madrid's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the award was accepted on Utzon's behalf by his son, Jan, and was subsequently delivered to him in Majorca by Sydney Opera House CEO Norman Gillespie.  At the ceremony, architect Frank Gehry said that Utzon had 'made a building well ahead of its time and he persevered through extraordinary malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of entire country'' [Sydney Morning Herald 22.5.03]


Jun Sydney Opera House Trust publishes 3rd edition of Sydney Opera House: a Plan for the Conservation of the Sydney Opera House and its Site by Dr James Semple Kerr. In a section on managing the process of change, under collective memory (or easy access to archival material and living repositories of essential information), he writes:

In 1996 the annual report of the Sydney Opera House Trust noted the importance of the Dennis Wolanski Library. The 1997 report noted its closure and the dispersal of its contents. In 1993 it was the Dennis Wolanski Library that made it possible for a stranger to the Opera House to research and write the first edition of this conservation plan in a relatively brief time and at reasonable cost. In any long term organisation, management, staff, consultants and contractors change. The major impediment to the full understanding of a place of the complexity of the Sydney Opera House is the loss of collective memory. If people no longer have access to what was done and why it was done, decisions on development and conservation may be primarily guided by short-lived aesthetic and operational fashions—to the detriment of the place. He proposed Conservation Policy 58.1: It should be the long term objective of the Sydney Opera House Trust to bring together at one accessible location (or in the mini-mum possible number of such locations) all documentary, graphic and oral records relating to the development of the Opera House and its site.

Echoing the library's role in managing an oral history program during the 1980s and 1990s, he commented: At the moment such material is spread among a range of government archives and agencies, commercial firms, universities and individuals. Also those individuals involved in the design and construction of elements of the place that are still alive are approaching the end of their life. Now is the time to secure their documentary or oral contribution. He proposed Conservation Policy 58.2: Consideration should be given to recording the contribution and reminiscences of the lesser known but important consultants, contractors and staff of the Sydney Opera House and Department of Public Works who had an intimate connection with the Opera House between 1960 and the 1990s.

Jul 01

Norman Gillespie, in article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Old Music Meets New Technology at the House, speaks about the variable quality of the Sydney Opera House archive, the lack of digital experiences at the House, and plans for an educational facility.

Jul 02 Sydney Opera House Trust announces that it has signed an agreement with Disney to allow major presenting companies to perform at the Capitol Theatre from October 2005 when renovations commence to the Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre.


Sep 24 Loss of Dennis Wolanski Library lamented. Geraldine O'Brien, in The Sydney Magazine, highlighting 30 significant events in the history of the House, says 'the disappearance of the Dennis Wolanski Library of the Performing Arts, established in 1973...has been a loss for not only those interested in the arts, but also ironically, for those interested in the Opera House itself.'


Sep 29 Sylvia Lawson's novel The Outside Story is launched. Dorothy Johnston in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald 18-19.10.2003 days the novel 'dramatises a battle between excellence and mediocrity, presenting Utzon as striving for the best that can be imagined, and the imagination as a force for good, then chronicling the failure of this ideal, the compromises that have many hidden and not so hidden, costs.' Bronwyn Rivers, in The Age 18 October 2003, says Lawson's work not only captures the emotions of this story but manages to make them infectious. The visionary nature of the project and its architectural excellence engender pride, while anger follows the realisation of the perfect whole which could have been.


Oct 15 Philip Drew raises concerns about upgrade program. In Building on Past Glory (The Australian), reviewing the development application for an upgrade and refurbishment of the Reception Hall, he queries the extent of Utzon's involvement in the project and says the 'superficial nature of the reception hall changes is disappointing, and indicates what can be expected in the critically important concert hall, opera theatre and western foyer'.
Oct 20 Utzon says involvement on latest contract has been limited. Peter Fray, in an interview with Jørn Utzon, reports that Utzon's latest consultancy appears to be 'more of a redress by NSW for past wrongs'. According to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald, although Jørn Utzon considers the latest contract with the Sydney Opera House has been 'heaven', his only involvement has been to design a new tapestry for the Reception Hall. Most of the new work, Utzon suggests, has been carried out by his son, Jan. 


Oct 25 Campaign begins to restore the display of John Coburn's Curtin of the Sun to the Opera Theatre and the Curtin of the Moon to the Drama Theatre. The curtains fell out of favour with presenters because their imagery often clashed with the mood of the production about to unfold. Constant use had also caused damage to their fabric, necessitating major restoration work. [SMH] 


Oct 28 Louis Nowra's play The Devil is a Woman threatened with legal action by the English owner of Goossens' private letters. The play is about Rosaleen Norton, 'the witch of Kings Cross', and her relationship with Sir Eugene Goossens. [SMH]


Dec 03 Opera House placed on State Heritage Listing. NSW Premier Bob Carr sees listing as a step towards being recognised on the new National Heritage list, and eventually on the World Heritage List. According to the press release 4 million people enter the doors of the Opera House each year and spend more than $7.3 million a year on paid tours, merchandise and concerts while visiting the Opera House.


Dec 11 Shambles at the Opera House, proclaims the Sydney Morning Herald in editorial criticising the House over proposals for marquees on the northern broadwalk. 'It would destroy the Opera House as a place of pure enjoyment, at close quarters, on quiet stroll.'  


Dec 17 Sydney Opera House refit put on hold. Plans to close the Opera Theatre for renovations are postponed indefinitely after "designers realised that more worked need to be done to improve the venue." [The Australian].
Jan 09 Security upgrade. NSW Premier Bob Carr announces $9 million security upgrade to combat terrorism at the Sydney Opera House. Package includes changes in vehicle access, new locks, digital surveillance cameras and staff recruitment and training. [The Australian]  


Jan 10 Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay opens with performances of Harbour by Katherine Thomson and The Republic of Myopia by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, presented by the Sydney Theatre Company. [SMH] 


Jan 17 Eugene & Roie previewed at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre. A concert version of act one of a new opera about Sir Eugene Goossens and Rosaleen Norton, by composer Drew Crawford, was performed, despite the threat of legal action by Goossens' companion and executrix Pamela Main. [SMH].


Feb 03 Bond plan to finance Opera Theatre reconstruction. Valerie Lawson reports that the NSW Treasury is considering a plan to issue bonds to help remake the Opera Theatre, involving lower of the theatre floor and improved air conditioning, at a cost of $300 million. [SMH]


Feb 10 Western Broadwalk redevelopment. Premier Carr unveils plans for reconstruction of the western side of the building, involving the opening up of the western foyer to the harbour by a new glass facade and a $6 million loggia or colonnade. Plans for the development were created by Jørn Utzon with his son, Jan Utzon, and Richard Johnson. [SMH] 


May Cameron Bruhn interviews Jan Utzon on his collaboration with Jørn Utzon. Architecture Australia May/June 2004.


Jun 21 The Fall of the House, a documentary film about Sir Eugene Goossens and his demise in 1956, premieres at the Sydney Film Festival.


Sep 16 Utzon Room opens. The former Reception Hall, redesigned by Utzon Associates, officially launched featuring Jørn Utzon's14 X 2.7 metre tapestry Homage to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. See article by Joe Rollo Jorn Again in The Weekend Australian Magazine 11-12 September 2004 and Steve Meacham's At Long Last, Utzon's Legacy is Sewn Up in the Sydney Morning Herald 16 Sep 2004.


Oct 27 FT Spirit, a former America's Cup yacht, crashes into rocks surrounding the Sydney Opera House, throwing those board into the harbour.


Oct 31 Kim Williams, Foxtel chief executive, appointed chairman of the Sydney Opera House to replace Joe Skrzynski. Other trust appointments announced by Premier Bob Carr are Renata Kaldor and Leo Schofield, replacing Diane Grady and Dennis Watkins.  


Mar 18 Frank Barnes, inspiring general manager of the Sydney Opera House from 1973-1978, dies suddenly of a heart attack at the Sydney Showground..


Apr 01

The Sydney Opera House Trust, in a Sydney Morning Herald report Utzon, utzoff: Opera House Facelift Sags, confirms that there is no fixed starting date for the proposed $350 million renovations to the Opera Theatre. There is no reference to the status of plans for the theatre, only a misleading illustration of Jørn Utzon's scheme for the Major Hall, now the Concert Hall. In an editorial the next day, the Herald suggests that the Opera House Lottery be resurrected to pay for the renovations.


Apr 21 Tessitura announces Sydney Opera House Trust purchase of Tessitura(R) for box office operations, fundraising, reporting and customer relations management.  


Apr 28 Sydney Opera House described in report as a tragedy in world architecture which destroyed its designer's career and robbed the world of other great works he may have made. The study, Design by Deception: The Politics of Megaproject Approval, compares the Sydney Opera House and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, was written by Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of Aalborg University, Denmark, and published by Harvard Design Magazine. [ABC Arts & Entertainment News].


May 02 Start of construction of a 45m loggia along the western all of the Opera House, raises fears that the proposed World Heritage listing will be jeopardised.  James Weirick, professor of landscape architecture at the University of NSW, says the designs are out of keeping with the rest of the building. Utzon's Biographer, Philip Drew, described the loggia as a "bastardisation" of the building: it spoils its poetry. [The Australian]


May 03 Conductor Richard Gill calls for a beautiful performing venue for opera in Sydney. "The Opera House is undeniably one of the world's great buildings, however, as with many things in this country, it went wrong along the way. We need a simple space specifically designed for opera, where the orchestra can play properly and the audience can hear them properly. Angel Place is gorgeous - the ideal concert hall. Now we need an Angel Place for opera". [SMH]


Jul 12 Sydney Opera House placed on the National Heritage List. The Federal Heritage Minister, Ian Campbell, says the Federal Government will now work with NSW to get the Opera House placed on the World Heritage List. [SMH]


Aug 11 Lloyd Martin, AM, dies at the age of 71. Lloyd Martin was General Manager of the Sydney Opera House 1979-1997, and Deputy General Manager, 1973-1979.


Sep 3

Professor H. Ingham Ashworth (1907-1991). Peter Myers seeks leads to research material and family contacts as part of his research on the role of Professor Harry Ingham Ashworth (1907-1991) in the architectural competition for the design of the Sydney Opera House. Professor Ashworth drafted the conditions, selected his fellow competition jurors, and was chairman of the jury that awarded first prize to Jørn Utzon. Peter Myers' contact details: phone 02 6722 1287, PO Box 754, Inverell, NSW 2360. [SMH 3-4 Sep]


Sep 16 Fragmented and inconsistent building data, lack of a set of definitive plans, and lack of integrated documentation are to be addressed as part of Sydney Opera House Facilities Management Exemplar Project. It brings to fruition previous attempts to deal with documentation deficiencies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. []


Oct 04 NSW Planning Minister Frank Sartor says an application to put the Sydney Opera House on the World Heritage register will be lodged in 2006, after the  Federal Government reversed its long-standing opposition to the international listing in July. [ABC Arts Online].


Oct 10 Jørn Utzon, interviewed by Adrian Mourby in The Guardian, proclaims 'Every morning I wake up and think of my building'. Claiming, somewhat misleadingly, that "at last Utzon's original ideas for the Opera House will be realised" the article reflects on influences for the design of the Opera House, Utzon's departure from the project, recent construction, and the architect's emotional attachment to the building. [The Guardian].


Oct 27 Anthony Davis expresses scepticism on the realisation of Utzon's new plans for the Opera House. Although work has been completed on the reception hall and begun on the loggia, "it seems it'll take a state government far more courageous than the incumbent to implement the thrust of Utzon's blueprint." [Sydney Magazine no 31].


Nov 26 Elizabeth Farrelly raises questions about construction work at the Opera House in an article What Utzon Did Next about Jørn Utzon's grandson Jeppe: The latest Opera House project may have come to a (second) shuddering halt, but that didn't stop Bob Carr, from Macquarie Street, sorry Bank, claiming it as a coup at the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' awards event at the Opera House recently. What does Jeppe think of the changes so far - the colonnade, the podium openings? "It's a dangerous thing to do, opening it up. It'd probably be best if they hadn't, but they're good architects, so it'll probably be all right. It'll be interesting to see how much the building can take. I'll wait and see." [SMH Spectrum 26-27 November]


Nov 28 Sydney Opera House reports that work on the Western loggia should be finished by the end of the year. In response to criticisms that the loggia is a bastardisation that upsets the balance of the building by corrupting its solid base, Opera House chief executive Norman Gillespie highlights improvements that will enliven a "dead space". However, work on other projects - the upgrade of the opera theatre to raise the orchestra pit and improve the acoustics - have been delayed "due to wrangling over financing with the NSW Government." [SMH] 


Dec 25 Birgit Nilsson dies. The soprano who was the featured artist in the first public performance in the Concert Hall, on 29 September 1973, dies at the age of 87. Accompanied by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras, Nilsson sang Dich Teure Halle (Dear Hall of Song) from Tannhauser, Prelude and Liebestod (Love Death) from Tristan and Isolde and Schlussgesang der Brunhilde (Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene) from Twilight of the Gods.   


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