Opera Australia

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

Based in Sydney on Gadigal land, we present over 600 annual performances to more than half a million people, including operas, musicals and concerts in our flagship home venues: Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne. We present a national tour that extends from the red centre in the Northern Territory, to the wine regions of Western Australia, to the beach in Coolangatta.  

In addition to the annual program, we work year round with children, teachers and communities in NSW and Victoria with the aim of sparking an interest in song and stories. Our Schools Tour brings the world of opera and theatre craft to over 18,000 primary school children every year. Subsidised tickets are offered to secondary students. 

We regularly work with some of the world’s most prestigious houses to create co-productions of powerful, often lesser-known, operas. We continue to embrace technology to reach communities in far-flung places with our rich catalogue of opera via cinema, on-demand TV, podcasts and radio broadcasts. 

We are one of the biggest employers in Australia’s $14.7 billion live performance sector, with an ensemble of Australian artists, and regular appearances by international guest artists. Our company includes opera singers, conductors, musicians and repetiteurs, with 200 people in the areas of scenic construction and painting, lighting, design, direction, wardrobe, wig-making, management and administration. In Sydney, we employ the Opera Australia Orchestra, while Orchestra Victoria is a key performance partner for Melbourne seasons. 

Our company is led by Chief Executive Officer Fiona Allan, and from November 2023 we will welcome our new Artistic Director, Jo Davies.

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. 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, La Bohème and the first ever major outdoor production of The Phantom of the Opera. 

In 2013, we performed our first Ring Cycle, directed by Neil Armfield and acclaimed by local and international critics. We also premiered a captivating production of A Masked Ball by La Fura dels Baus, an exciting collaboration with three international opera companies. Co-productions are an important part of our repertoire. Pooling resources with other prestigious companies mean you can hear unusual and lesser-known works more often. Recent co-productions have included Szymanowski’s King Roger, Tchaikovksy’s Eugene Onegin and Shostakovich’s The Nose. 

Musicals have also formed an important part of our annual program over the last decade, with annual seasons in Sydney and Melbourne of some of the greatest works in the canon. 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.