Louise Herron, Lyndon Terracini, and David McAllister share their thoughts on the SOH Theatre as renovation work begins.

In 2015, the Sydney Opera House announced that it was self-funding a $45 million renewal project in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, overhauling theatre machinery over 40 years old to improve the venue’s reliability, functionality, and safety. The NSW Government also announced it was investing a further $26 million into additional works to improve the theatre’s accessibility, acoustics, and functionality. With the Theatre now officially closed for upgrades, Opera House CEO Louise Herron, Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, and The Australian Ballet Artistic Director David McAllister shared their fondest memories of the venue and their hopes for the future.

“The Joan Sutherland Theatre is one of the world’s hardest-working theatres, with 330 performances a year. But its 50-year-old ‘engine’ needs to be replaced to create a safer, more reliable and flexible theatre”, Herron explained. “We are also taking this once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the venue’s acoustics, accessibility and functionality”.

David McAllister likewise considers the venue one of the most hardworking theatres in the world. “The Australian Ballet did their first season, in the very first year that this theatre opened, and since then have performed more at the Joan Sutherland Theatre than anywhere else in Australia… So much of that magic relies on what goes on backstage. It’s extraordinary how hard the theatre has worked”.

“We see the Joan Sutherland Theatre as our stage on the world stage. As much as we are sad about moving out of the theatre for the next seven months, we’re really excited about the future possibilities”, he added.

 The Australian Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. Photograph © Daniel Boud

“It’s a privilege for Opera Australia to perform at the Sydney Opera House and personally, I find it a joy to work there,” said Lyndon Terracini. “It’s a really special place. There have been many wonderful evenings in the theatre through its wonderful history so far”.

Terracini remembers the first opera performed in the Theatre, Prokofiev’s War and Peace on September 28, 1973 as “a truly unforgettable night, especially for those associated with the Opera House during its construction”.

Naturally, the Theatre’s namesake is of special significance to Terracini. “Dame Joan Sutherland left a special mark on this theatre. Arguably one of the greatest singers Australia has ever produced, it was always a privilege to see her perform. She’s synonymous with opera in Australia, and I’m glad the Opera Theatre was renamed after her in 2012”.

Dame Joan Sutherland

Terracini calls this year’s Australian premiere of King Roger, a rarely performed piece by Szymanowski “a great moment for the company”. A co-production with Covent Garden, it saw a giant head and a flurry of writhing dancers onstage, with excellent attendance figures every night.

“We were also fortunate to have Ermonela Jaho perform in Verdi’s La Traviata [in February]. She received a standing ovation at the end of each performance – unheard of in the Opera House”.  The soprano proved such a success that Opera Australia has confirmed that plans for her to return in Donizetti’s Tudor Queens are in the pipeline.

Herron is similarly enthusiastic about the performances that the Theatre has hosted, reflecting on the many contemporary artists and speakers that have appeared on its stage.

“My favourite Talks & Ideas events have included Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Richard Dawkins and the F-Word in 2012, which gave rise to our annual All About Women festival. There’s been an incredible array of musicians, from Kraftwerk, Nils Frahm and Karen O to the Australian Chamber Orchestra performing with The Presets. And I have vivid memories of the exceptional Nederlands Dans Theater and Mark Morris Dance Group”.

Herron is excited at what the refurbishments will mean for the future of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, saying: “Renewal is about ensuring the theatre meets the needs and expectations of 21st century artists, audiences and visitors. I’m most excited about what comes next, when the theatre reopens at the end of the year, match-fit and raring-to-go for 2017 and beyond”.