The curtain will fall next week on the last performance in the Joan Sutherland Theatre (JST) for seven months as the Sydney Opera House prepares to start work on its first major Renewal project.
One of the world's great performance venues, the JST will be closed from May to December 2017 while theatre machinery that has reached the end of its operational life is replaced.
The $45 million JST machinery upgrade has been self-funded by the Opera House to ensure the theatre meets the expectations of current and future generations of audiences, performers and staff. The upgrades include:
A new theatre flying system that will be quieter, safer and more reliable;
An improved grid deck providing a more flexible system of hoists and a clearer, more open work area; and
A better rigging system as well as a new bridge for rigging lights.
To make the most of the opportunity while the JST is closed, the NSW Government has committed a further $26 million towards additional upgrades to improve functionality, accessibility, acoustics and safety in the theatre. Subject to required planning and heritage approvals, the further works include:
Upgrades to the orchestra pit and installation of a state-of-the-art acoustic enhancement system to better distribute orchestral sound around the venue;
Partial replacement of the auditorium lighting, a new sound console and follow spot room;
A new passageway on the western side of the JST leading to a new lift that provides access - including wheelchair access - to all levels of the JST Northern Foyers (these works are expected to be completed by mid-2018); and
Six additional female toilets and one accessible bathroom in the JST Northern Foyer.
The Opera House will remain open throughout the construction works, with all other performance venues, restaurants, bars and tours operating as normal.
The suite of upgrades in the JST will lead into a larger program of Renewal works funded by a $202 million investment by the NSW Government, including upgrades to the Concert Hall, entry foyers and the arrival area under the Monumental Steps, as well as new function and creative learning centres, bringing the total value of Stage 1 Renewal to $273 million.
NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said the Renewal projects would improve the functionality and accessibility of Australia's busiest performing arts centre and ensure the Opera House was able to continue to play a central role in shaping the nation's identity and culture.
"The Opera House is the symbol of modern Australia. Over the coming years, the NSW Government is investing more than $228 million to renew the Opera House, which represents the biggest upgrade to the building since it opened in 1973," Minister Harwin said.
"Renewal will ensure this World Heritage-listed masterpiece is equipped to present the very best in performing arts as well as making it more accessible to all. These works include a new lift providing wheelchair access to all levels of the Foyers surrounding the Joan Sutherland Theatre for the first time, which will make a huge difference to the millions of people who come to the Opera House every year."
Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM described Renewal as one of the most exciting times in the Opera House's history and highlighted the importance of the upgrades.
"The Opera House is a masterpiece of creative genius, a work of art that is brought to life every day by the art performed on its stages," Ms Herron said.
"The Joan Sutherland Theatre is one of the world's hardest working theatres, each year delivering about 330 opera, ballet and other performances. Its 50-year-old 'engine' needs to be replaced to create a safer, more reliable and flexible theatre. We are thrilled to be starting this essential work, particularly for our backstage crew who play such an important part in creating the magic on stage."
The final performance in the JST will be The Australian Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. This will take place on 20 May and construction work will begin shortly after.
The Australian Ballet's Artistic Director David McAllister said he was excited by the new artistic opportunities presented by the renovations.
"You feel the magic every time you step out onto the stage," Mr McAllister said. "But so much of that magic relies on what goes on backstage. It's extraordinary how hard the theatre has worked and we welcome its first major refurbishment. These upgrades to the theatre system as well as the venue's new acoustic treatment will make a significant difference to the audience experience.
"We see the Joan Sutherland Theatre as our stage on the world stage. While we're sad to be saying goodbye to it for the next seven months, the changes being made will give us the confidence to dream big and to push the boundaries of the productions we're already planning when we return next year."
Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini said: "This is critical work required to ensure this wonderful venue is able to meet all that is demanded of a contemporary theatre. Since the upgrades were announced more than two years ago, we have worked extremely closely with the Opera House on the project. This has also given us the time to develop an exciting program of performances in other Opera House venues as well as The Capitol Theatre for our audiences to enjoy during the closure. We look forward to returning to the JST in December to reopen the theatre with our special New Year's Eve gala."
Laing O'Rourke has been appointed as Major Contractor for the JST works, having recently signed a contract with the Opera House for delivery of the first phase of Renewal.