Philip Drew’s very interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning about the Opera House and Utzon’s role reminded me of a long ago morning with my long deceased father.
I love the Opera House. I enjoyed watching with my small children from a Cremorne window as its opening was celebrated. I have enjoyed performances and operas under its sails. Some of the later performances I have watched involved said infants as older children and then adults.
But I remember the morning in our kitchen in Cooma when Utzon’s amazing, winning design was announced to us, also in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was in my last year of school at the time.
My father was closely perusing the details in the paper and shaking his head in a mixture of amazement and despair.
He was, as we all are today, extraordinarily impressed by the concept. It took an extremely imaginative and inspirational person to come up with the concept which all Australians, and the rest of the world, must admire. Utzon deserved his prize. We, who enjoy the building, give him our thanks.
My father, an engineer on the Snowy Scheme, that morning in 1957 said, “This is a magnificent idea and he deserves the prize but it needs to be redesigned with the assistance of some engineers before the first sod is turned. It just will not work like this. The shape of the sails, for example, will have to be slightly altered.” He went on to explain more – such was my lack of understanding that I think I shut my ears to much of the rest he was explaining. I was quite used to the many, usually polite and intellectual conflicts between architects and engineers! Later there was quite a lot of this sort of discussion with his engineering friends.
My father was very sorry for the, at a later time, much criticised Peter Hall, who had to take over from Utzon and who was often blamed for the concept not quite working as first intended. He said Peter Hall was in a “no win” situation. But the decisions were made and we have to live with them. It should not be too hard!
It was interesting to read Mr Drew’s analysis today.
But whether we have got something perfect for our Opera House, or whether it could have been done better with more initial planning, it is still pretty terrific. The acoustics may not be as perfect as they could be, the stage space for a big Opera may not be excellent. I have been inside overseas Opera houses which blow one away much more with their internal beauty.
But where else, after a rousing performance of Traviata can one raise one’s glass, on a balcony or though a wide plate glass window and toast a wonderful city like Sydney? Who else, after a sad passage in La Boheme or Otello, can comfortingly sip a coffee under those magnificent sails and gaze at the healing blue harbour waters softly lapping? Only those at our wonderful Opera House.