The 2020 Sydney Festival opens today, but without one of its central productions. As announced on Tuesday, the French stage adaptation of Opening Night, based on John Cassavetes’ film and starring Isabelle Adjani, has been cancelled because of concerns about air quality in Sydney as a result of the bushfires.

In a statement, Sydney Festival Artistic Director Wesley Enoch, said that he was “extremely disappointed”. “We have been in constant communication with all international and Australian based companies in relation to any concerns arising from the current fire situation in NSW and we have been buoyed by their responses,” said Enoch.

Isabelle Adjani in Opening Night. Photograph © Simon Gosselin

“The arts community understands the importance of carrying on and also acknowledges the powerful role that art, culture and the act of coming together can play at a time like this. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and assurances, the Opening Night team has chosen not to come.”

Securing Adjani, a French star who has been twice nominated for an Oscar, was a coup for the Festival and the withdrawal of Opening Night is a major set-back. Sydney Festival has promised full refunds to all ticket holders.

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted from a letter sent by Opening Night’s executive producer Nicolas Roux regarding the cancellation: “As Isabelle Adjani explained herself and as her medical certificate attests, it is detrimental for her to go to Sydney given the current conditions without seriously endangering her health, due to her respiratory weakness.”

Sydney’s air quality was once again deemed hazardous today by Weatherzone as smoke and mist hovered over the city and its surrounds, after an overnight wind change blew smoke from numerous bushfires into the Sydney basin.

Sydney Festival has announced a Bushfire Appeal Concert at the Metro Theatre on Saturday January 11 featuring local artists Dan Sultan, Polish Club, Custard, Art vs Science, Regurgitator and The Neptune Power Federation, with Yumi Stynes as MC. Money raised will be donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal and WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service), to help bushfire affected communities across Australia. This is just one of many bushfire benefits announced around the country in recent days.

Last September, Brisbane Festival cancelled its Fire Gardens installation because of the Queensland bushfires. This week, the concert A Day at the Green at a winery near the Murray River in Victoria featuring Cold Chisel was cancelled because the air quality was rated hazardous.

The Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria at the end of December was cancelled at due to extreme heat and bushfire threat, and the National Gallery of Australia was closed last Sunday and Monday due to poor air quality – the first time that the NGA has ever closed due to bushfire smoke. It reopened yesterday.