Following last year’s overnight performance of Max Richter’s Sleep, it seems the Sydney Opera House is considering introducing a lottery for guests to stay overnight in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed building according to a report published in The Australian.
In fact, proposals have been under consideration by NSW Planning & Environment since at least 2015 to open up select areas of the Sydney Opera House for experiential accommodation. But according to The Australian, the proposals could allow guests to stay overnight in six areas of the building, including the Utzon Room and the Board Room, which would be converted (temporarily) into “Danish-themed” luxury bedrooms.
“At this stage, it is not anticipated that we would charge people to stay overnight at the Opera House,” said a spokesperson for the Opera House. “Plans are yet to be finalised, but could include ballots, visitor experiences, competition prizes or promotional activities.”
The proposals submitted to state planners, which are publicly available on NSW Planning & Environment’s website, indicate that as many as 100 guests could be housed overnight in the foyers of the Joan Sutherland Theatre and the Concert Hall on a single occasion each year. The Environmental Impact Statement said that the proposal wants “to provide a unique opportunity for the community to experience the iconic Sydney Opera House in new and innovative ways.”
The Office of Environment and Heritage acting manager for conservation Katrina Stankoski was cautious of the proposals in a submission to NSW Planning. “Tourist-based overnight accommodation was not envisaged by the original design. It detracts from the primary function of the Opera House and it is noted that overnight accommodation for patrons is readily available at nearby hotels,” she told planners. “However, due to the limited occasions the overnight accommodation events will be held, and the maximum two night duration of the events, it may be acceptable provided conditions of consent are put in place to limit any impacts to significance of the SOH.”
“Therefore, if the proposal as described in the [Environmental Impact Statement] is approved,” she said, “it is recommended that the events should be limited to six only. On the completion of these proposed events, a review can be conducted to assess any impacts of the proposal to the significant heritage values of the SOH. This will allow any unintended/unforeseen impacts to be identified and addressed in the future.”
Proposals were open to comment from the public between September 9 and October 24, 2016, and while NSW planning wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with submissions, all three were negative. Frances Thompson commented, “I am opposed strongly to this proposal. If used in this way, the opera house becomes a form of couch surfing, with dozy risers wandering around, dishevelled.” Lara Milson wrote, “What about terrorism? I don’t feel comfortable about this.” Trish Burt, a nearby resident, was critical of any sponsorship agreements between AirBNB and the Sydney Opera House, writing: “The timing of the Sydney Opera House Trust’s Partnership with Airbnb is pure genius; evil genius.”
In her response to the Heritage Division’s submission, Senior Heritage Consultant Emmanuelle Fayolle cited the Sydney Opera House’s Conservation Management Plan, which prescribes that “all work on the Sydney Opera House should be carried out within the framework of Jørn Utzøn’s design principles as endorsed in 2002.” She noted that the guidelines to the policy state that Utzøn’s “second idea was the creation of sensory experiences that would bring pleasure to the users of the place.”
“The proposal for experiential accommodation does not intend to provide a service of overnight accommodation to patrons in the same way a hotel would,” said Fayolle, “but instead would provide a unique sensory experience by enabling patrons to enjoy an exceptional use of a carefully designed and crafted place for a short period of time.”
Guests have already enjoyed such a unique sensory experience in the Sydney Opera House, when the building hosted an eight-hour performance of Max Richter’s Sleep in 2016, with guests provided with pallets and bedding to experience the immersive music. However, this was clearly intended to form a crucial part of a piece of performance art.
“As we renew the Opera House for future generations, we are constantly considering new ways for people to experience and understand this masterpiece from the inside out,” a spokesperson for the Sydney Opera House said in a report by the ABC in September. “From Max Richter’s eight-hour overnight Vivid LIVE performance of Sleep in the Joan Sutherland Theatre Northern Foyer to sunrise yoga on the Monumental Steps, we are constantly evolving the breadth and depth of experiences we offer.”
Limelight notes that the report in The Australian begins by describing the Sydney Opera House as “an institution devoted to the famously exclusive – and expensive – performance arts,” but a quick glance at upcoming events tells a different story. Tickets to Bell Shakespeare’s Richard 3, begin at $35.00, tickets to the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Murder & Redemption programme start at $44 while tickets to Opera Australia’s King Roger are going for as little as $23.