Opera Australia

Opera Australia is one of the world’s most celebrated performing arts companies with an ambition to bring an Australian stamp to sharing great stories through music and song, and with a commitment to develop and nurture new generations of Australian talent on and off the stage.

From year to year Opera Australia presents up to 500 performances to as many as 650,000 people. This includes operas, musicals and concerts, predominantly in our two performance homes: the Sydney Opera House on Gadigal land and the Arts Centre Melbourne on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung land. Opera Australia also stages exceptional and critically acclaimed performances in other venues in Australia’s major cities and regional communities across the country – from Warrnambool to Wyong and Burnie to Bendigo.

Based in Sydney at The Opera Centre in Surry Hills, and with offices and rehearsal facilities in the Melbourne Arts Precinct, we collaborate with other Australian opera companies and arts organisations, and co-produce work with some of the world’s most renowned opera houses and producers of musical theatre. Aligning with our ambition to make opera more accessible to more people, we are increasing our technical capabilities in order to reach communities across Australia and around the world, including free global livestreams of our critically acclaimed productions.

Led by CEO Fiona Allan, Opera Australia is the largest performing arts employer in Australia’s $14.7 billion arts and entertainment sector. Our company includes opera singers, conductors, orchestral musicians, coaches and répétiteurs with teams also working in the areas of scenic construction and painting, lighting, design, direction, wardrobe, wig-making, management and administration. Opera Australia is resident at the Sydney Opera House and our Orchestra performs in the Joan Sutherland Theatre with both Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet. Our Chorus is regarded as one of the world’s finest and our musical theatre productions are highly acclaimed.

With a focus on ensuring we are a diverse, inclusive, collaborative and responsive company, cultural change is taking place. This is evident in the close collaborations Opera Australia has forged with Australian state opera companies and with our focus on Australian talent, gender equity and a broadened repertoire. Our new approach is being received positively by critics and audiences alike, as much for its vibrancy as the reimagining of Opera Australia it represents. With a desire to explore Australian stories, and her reputation as a genuine collaborator, Artistic Director Jo Davies.’ upcoming programming further demonstrates our commitment to Australian creative talent alongside the very best international talent.

In 2023 we embarked on a new strategic ambition, a core feature of which is a determination to put a uniquely Australian stamp on our artform. Developed in consultation with employees and in the context of the Australian Government’s 2023 National Cultural Policy Revive - A place for every story, a story for every place, our new strategy reflects the post-pandemic direction for Opera Australia and outlines our goal of nurturing and extending our artform, audience and company equally. The key financial objective for the next five years is to foster a company that sustains a large and highly specialist workforce and supports an innovative program of opera and musical theatre.

A little history

Australia’s national opera company was born when a band of idealists — butchers, pharmacists, newsagents — gave up their day jobs to celebrate the 1956 Mozart bicentenary with a season of four of his operas. 

Nine years later, theatrical entrepreneur JC Williamson invited the company’s chorus, staff and some of its best singers to perform alongside Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti. Suddenly, everyone around the world knew about this little opera company. In 1967, the NSW state government offered a grant towards the formation of a permanent state company. 

The Sydney Opera House opened in 1973 with Prokofiev’s War and Peace, becoming the permanent Sydney performance home for our company. Three years later, Joan Sutherland gave her famous interpretation of the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1982, she performed as Violetta in La Traviata at the inaugural Opera in the Domain.  

Richard Meale's 1986 Voss, based on Nobel winner Patrick White's novel and with libretto by David Malouf, united some of the biggest names in local arts to stage a milestone of Australian-made opera. Baz Luhrmann’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream subsequently became the first Australian opera production to be performed internationally, at 1994’s Edinburgh Festival. Two years later, the company, then known as the Australian Opera, merged with the Victoria State Opera to form Opera Australia, under the artistic directorship of Moffatt Oxenbould.

In 2012, we launched Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour under the artistic directorship of Lyndon Terracini, with a spectacular production of La Traviata. The event quickly became an annual highlight of Sydney’s cultural calendar. Hundreds of thousands of people from Australia and abroad have seen a Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour performance, which have included Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Aida, Turandot, West Side Story, La Bohème and the first ever major outdoor production of The Phantom of the Opera

Musicals have also formed an important part of our annual program over the last decade, with annual seasons in Sydney and Melbourne. Highlights have included Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific (2012), My Fair Lady (2016) directed by Dame Julie Andrew, and a sold-out season of The Phantom of the Opera (2022), which was the fastest selling production ever at the Sydney Opera House. 

In 2013, we performed our first Ring Cycle, directed by Neil Armfield and acclaimed by local and international critics. Over the last decade, we have created a series of new productions in partnership with leading international opera companies including, most recently, The Tales of Hoffmann, a co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera National de Lyon and Fondazione Teatro La Fenice di Venezia. In 2023, we premiered our second production of the Ring Cycle, the first ever performed in Brisbane, directed by Chen-Shi Zheng. This staging used cutting edge digital technology and was the first “fully-digital” Ring Cycle presented anywhere in the world.

Over the course of our history, we have worked with and supported some of the world’s leading artists: we’ve presented career milestone performances by singers including Dame Joan Sutherland, Jonas Kaufmann, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Nicole Car and Jessica Pratt. Our orchestra has been conducted by maestros including Sir Richard Bonynge, Carlo Felice Cillario and Sir Charles Mackerras. Designs have been created by artists such as Sidney Nolan and Michael Yeargan, and productions staged by theatre greats including Moffatt Oxenbould, Elijah Moshinsky, Graeme Murphy, Barrie Kosky, Baz Lurhmann, Gale Edwards, John Bell, Julie Taymor, Sir David McVicar, Lindy Hume and Francesca Zambello.