Sydney Opera House

Opera is at every moment a test of an Olympian kind. That so many individuals come together each night to try and meet it is a wonder of one kind. That it is, in fact, so often met, is little short of a miracle: precarious, unlikely, but sometimes, just sometimes, when all the forces are in harmony, manageable – a matter of chemistry, but also of supreme effort, and happy chance, and grace.

David Malouf, Poet, Author, former Opera Australia Board Member

Jenifer Eddy as Papagena & Geoffrey Chard as Papageno in The Magic Flute 1956 tourIt was 1956 when the curtain went up on four Mozart operas for the very first season of the Australia Elizabethan Theatre Trust (as the Company was then known), touring to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

The Mozart season attracted a huge popular audience that responded warmly to an Australian-made company. From this successful first season was born
the nucleus of the ensemble which still exists today.
The first few years were tough. Opera is a notoriously expensive business,
and Australia is notoriously big: the survival of the Company was a triumph of professionalism over impracticality.

Significant moments in the Company's fifty year history include:

  • The 1965 tour of the Sutherland Williamson Grand Opera Company starring Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge;
  • the formation of its own orchestra in 1967, (made possible by core funding from the Australian government);
  • the opening of the Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre in 1973, with Prokofiev's War and Peace, conducted by Edward Downes;
  • the first free performance in Sydney's Domain in 1982, to become an annual event;
  • the 1988 tour to Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney in association with the Australian Bicentennial Authority;
  • Joan Sutherland's farewell performances in 1990;
  • the Company's first international tour to the Edinburgh Festival in 1994;
  • the formation of Oz Opera, Opera Australia's touring arm, in 1996;
  • a year of celebrations for the Company's 50th anniversary, including a Gala Benefit Concert at the Sydney Opera House with guest of honour Dame Joan Sutherland, an exhibition of operatic artefacts at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, and two television documentaries.
  • Following Richard Hickox's tragic death in 2008, Lyndon Terracini becomes Artistic Director in 2009
  • The 2010 première of Brett Dean and Amanda Holden's Bliss, commissioned by Opera Australia. It premières in Sydney, Melbourne and at the Edinburgh Festival, followed by a production in Hamburg under Simone Young.


View Opera Australia Chronology