Opera Australia’s 2019 Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, was the most successful in the event’s eight-year history, the company announced. The production – the first time a musical has been staged for HOSH – was attended by more than 65,000 people, breaking the record set by Aida in 2015, which was attended by more than 57,000.

West Side Story, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, HOSHWest Side Story on Sydney Harbour. Photograph © Prudence Upton

“Each year always exceeds our expectations, but West Side Story has really knocked it out of the park on all levels. We knew it would be a hit, but to see such a strong response like we’ve never had before is just brilliant,” said Lyndon Terracini, OA’s Artistic Director. “I would also like to extend a sincere thanks to Dr Haruhisa Handa and the International Foundation for Arts and Culture whose ongoing support promotes cultural exchange and conversation, nurtures gifted artists and creative talent, and promotes opera to a diverse and international audience in a truly unique undertaking.”

OA is claiming the decision to stage a musical – albeit a uniquely operatic one – rather than an opera has been a “resounding success”. According to the company, 56 percent of the West Side Story audience reported seeing an OA event for the first time.

The production was directed by Francesca Zambello and was one of two West Side Story productions on offer to Sydney audiences in 2019 (the other, a touring production, opened in Melbourne earlier this month and comes to the Sydney Opera House in August). Zambello’s production, which starred soprano Julie Lea Goodwin and tenor Alexander Lewis in the lead roles of Maria and Tony, has also been lauded by the critics.

“It’s a wonderful production that uses the large, outdoor space cleverly, thrills with its electrifying choreography and catchy, complex score, and despite the familiarity of the story still shocks and reaches into the heart,” Limelight Editor Jo Litson wrote in her review. “It is one of HOSH’s best productions to date, up there with the superlative Madama Butterfly.”