Sydney Opera House’s new and improved concert hall has finally been unveiled
After two and a half years of painstaking, science-backed renovations, the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall is finally ready to welcome audiences back. More than $190 million has been invested in the top-to-bottom glow of the heritage-listed venue to improve its poor acoustics and increase accessibility across the venue’s entire footprint.
Due to corner cuts in an effort to deflate construction costs, a decision that led the Opera House’s visionary architect Jorn Utzon to walk away from the project before its completion, the most iconic building in australia has had notoriously flawed acoustics since it opened in 1973. While its outward appearance has become one of the most recognizable structures ever built, the drab, splashy and uneven performance conditions in the concert hall have been a source frustration for many artists who have come to Sydney over the past five decades. Giant plexiglass “donuts” were installed above the concert platform in the 90s to adjust the acoustics, but these had to be manually hoisted, which meant that changes in configuration, an acoustic performance to an amplified performance, for example, could take several days to complete.
The recently completed renovations not only resolved these issues, but exceeded the expectations of the acoustics and engineers behind the upgrades. Plexiglas donuts have been replaced with 18 computer-controlled sound-reflecting “petals” that can be positioned to alter acoustic conditions with incredible precision. The walls were lined with undulating wooden patterns – called acoustic diffusion panels – designed in a computer to interact with sound waves as they travel through the air. The stage has also been lowered to bring the musicians closer to the audience, and motorized lifts on the concert platform allow many configurations depending on the requirements of the ensemble or the repertoire.
While the concert hall was originally conceived as the home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, largely focused on the performance of classical music, it has become equally in demand as a venue you for modern musicians. To meet these evolving needs, a state-of-the-art sound system was installed, along with acoustic banners that can be lowered automatically from the ceiling to dampen the reverberation of the space. All possible acoustic settings can be changed in hours or even minutes, so bettors can enjoy an orchestral gig one night and a thrash metal gig the next, without the need for days of downtime.
Musicians who have been brought in to test the upgrades say the improvements have totally transformed the experience of playing Sydney Opera House, but the engineers behind the renovations have also ensured that the changes are as aesthetic than auditory. The acoustic petals have been colored the same magenta hue as the upholstery of the auditorium seats, to better integrate the technology into the space, and the undulating wood panels have a sculptural beauty of their own.
Accessibility was not a high priority in the original Opera House designs and for the past 50 years wheelchair users have been unable to reach the Northern Foyer, a multi-level lounge and bar area which offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Harbor Bridge. and North Shore. To solve this problem, a new tunnel was dug into the structure and a new Willy Wonka-style glass elevator was installed, making the four levels at the north end of the concert hall finally accessible to everyone.