Sydney Opera House: a date with La Traviata

August 13, 2013 in Australia, Oceania, Travelogue

Sydney Opera House

The sun is rising, molten pink, behind the Opera House this morning.

I’ve watched a lot of sunrises, but this has to be one of my favourite backdrops.

We’ve seen the Opera House from every angle now: 

  • From the air, flying in
  • From the train pulling into the station
  • From the wharf as we walk
  • From the rooftop terrace of the hotel
  • From the water as the ferry bends around the point
  • From cloud-like comfort of our hotel bed
  • From a seat inside the Joan Sutherland theater
  • Even from the tip top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

We can’t take our eyes off of it.

It’s funny how one piece of architecture, the right piece of architecture, can take over a skyline and define the personality of a city. New York has the Empire State Building, Chicago has the Sears Tower, London has Big Ben, Sydney: well, you already know.

Here are some fun facts we’ve learned about the lady of the harbour this week; the more we learn, the more fascinating it becomes:

  • Jorn Utzon, a 38 year old Dane, won a contest for the design of the building, he’d never been here!
  • The original budget for construction was $7 million dollars, but that was a wild underestimation. It cost, in total, $102 million dollars to complete.
  • The construction took ten years longer than projected.
  • The tallest sail is about half the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge; they did not want this building to out-shine the architectural darling of the city!
  • It sits on the site of the previous train depot

It’a hard to believe that this building, that has so captivated the world and has come to define Sydney’s international presence, is only 39 years old… the same as me. I thought about that watching the white sails gleam in the sun, as I slowly climbed the bridge: about how one half of a lifetime can change the face of a country, and the world.

I did not let the boys wear their new collared shirts and black pants before the evening of the opera.

Perhaps you have boys, and I needn’t explain why. Ezra ate with the careful attention of a brain surgeon, knife in one hand, fork in the other, cutting small bites, trying hard not to drip any sauce covered kangaroo on his crisply ironed shirt. Gabe, who’d done the ironing, griped about feeling too “stiff.”

La Traviata is Verdi’s story of a prostitute who finds true love and is redeemed by it, only to die in her true love’s arms instead of living happily ever after. Not a storyline you’d necessarily expect boys in the 11-15 year old range to be interested in, but it was the opera at hand this month. They were riveted. Enraptured might be another word that applied. The sets, the music, the acting, the costumes, all of it, every single bit, was above and beyond our expectations. It was the children’s first opera, and mine too. We are in love.

We spent the intermissions drooling over the details and wishing hard for our cousin Ruthie, and her husband, who are orchestra musicians in Atlanta, and for Miss Lucy, who is our favourite opera singer, we met her at a church in Vienna, she stood behind us and sang like an angel. Ezra had to apologize (sheepishly) for inadvertently kicking the seat of a stern looking German woman in front of us. He got so excited and kept moving forward in his chair, not realizing that every movement was being drummed into her back. She melted into smiles, patting his hand, and delivered her one English sentence: “I am German, I don’t understand, but it’s okay!!” Opera transcends language barriers. “Well Ez, at least it’s not as bad as Elisha dropping his shoe through the railing right on the heads of the two muslim ladies at A Midsummer’s Night Dream in Stratford!” I teased him!

The old girl seems tired this morning, yawning wide from every sail at dawn over the harbour; her nights are late and her morning’s early, just like ours this week!