New Opera House plans cause uproar

Jo Livesey
Friday 28 Mar 2008

Mixed reviews about Ken Woolley's vision for a new opera theatre in Sydney Harbour

The Sydney Morning Herald this week reported that the former Autralian prime minister, Paul Keating is outraged by a proposal, to build an 1800-seat opera theatre next to the Opera House and encroaching on the Botanic Gardens.

Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and Ove Arup & Partners, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world's most distinctive 20th century buildings. In more recent years, lack of space and the need for different acoustics for different performance types has called for plans to rebuild the opera theatre inside the Opera House. The plans call for structural work in a makeover mooted to cost as much as $700 million. When the Sydney Morning Herald floated the idea that for such a sum a new opera theatre could be built somewhere else, there was much support, as well as criticism.

Of particular interest, the architect Ken Woolley, an esteemed member of the architectural fraternity of Sydney, has come up with a proposal that would allow the Opera House complex to stage the grandest of grand operas without remaking either the opera theatre or concert hall. His idea is to build a 1800-seat opera theatre next to the Opera House, partly over the harbour and partly into the Botanic Gardens. He says this could be done for $400 million.In The Brisbane Times, Woolley suggested that trying to create a new opera theatre inside the present building would inevitably lead to compromise, whether by lowering the existing Opera Theatre or, as others have suggested, attempting to convert the present Concert Hall to an opera venue. He suggest that the answer is for a build a new, world-class 1800-seat opera theatre near the Opera House, within the World Heritage-listed Opera House precinct. Woolley argues that in building a new opera theatre on the Opera House site, the Opera House would gain not only a world-class modern opera theatre, it would not have to close the present one for the three years required to rebuild it.

Woolley states that the new opera theatre would complement, not compete with, the existing building and conlcudes that the scheme would offer an uncompromised 1800-seat theatre. He admits his idea will not appeal to all. "Some critics will feel it compromises Utzon's original vision, while others will say it just will not work … It does demand courage. Only the brave would dare build something near the sacred monument."

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