beneath the white sails, setting the record straight
good news, australia! forty-nine years after the opening of danish architect jorn utzon’s sydney opera house, the final touches are in place to make it possibly the finest facility of its kind.
utzon, who won an international design competition in 1957 with his vision of white sails billowing over the opera house, was sacked in 1966, after nine years of agonizing labor that had transformed a rocky point overlooking the city’s harbor into an architectural wonder.
when utzon departed australia, never to return again, he left unfinished the nuts-and-bolts work needed to make the insides of the eggshells sing like the magnificent exterior he had so painstakingly constructed. after he left, the job was handed over to a three-man committee. in helen pitt’s comprehensive history of the controversial construction, entitled “the house”, she says it was like “asking three men to finish a rembrandt”.
the result left room for improvement. for more than forty years, performers and audiences whispered about the sound quality at the grand concert hall. it just wasn’t utzon.
no longer! as the opera house prepares for its fiftieth anniversary next year, jorn utzon’s vision is complete. opera house c.e.o. louise herron, who spearheaded the upgrade, invited more than three-thousand faithful for a black-tie gala on july 21, 2022 for the grand reopening of the newly refurbished concert hall. she revealed in her program notes that, “the muller-b.b.m. acousticians, who worked on the philharmonie berlin and other fine concert halls throughout the world, regard this as their finest achievement.”
it shows!! the grand reopening featured the sydney symphony orchestra fittingly performing mahler’s “resurrection” symphony. it was preceded by a concerto written for the occasion by indigenous composer william barton, who incidentally is also australia’s leading didgeredoo player.
mahler’s “resurrection” is challenging music. under the baton of newly-appointed permanent conductor simone young, the orchestra shook the hall to its pre-fab concrete foundation in an epic performance. the capacity crowd rose to its feet in a roar of approval. the sydney opera house is now the global benchmark for excellence, inside as well as out.
it was an evening that reflected australia’s growing self-esteem and stature. denmark’s ambassador to australia, pernille dahler kardel, was a special guest for the occasion. this was a night of righting the wrongs of history, in much the same way aussies have been doing with their aboriginal predecessors. jorn utzon, who died in 2008 at his home in denmark, was probably smiling from heaven.