Friday, June 05, 2009
I thought I knew what the Sydney Opera House looked like. It’s smooth and white, right?
Not quite, as it turns out. It’s actually a slightly pinkish beige, and I learned on a tour that the exterior is made of ceramic tiles. They’re laid out in a pattern that suggests fish scales, or feathers. It’s a pretty outlandish building, designed by a Scandinavian architect who wasn’t positive his own design could even be built.
And if you think the current building is wacky, you should see some of the other proposals. A contest was held in the 1950s to solicit ideas for the design of Sydney’s new opera house, and the ones that didn’t look like Frank Lloyd Wright boxes looked like places the Jetsons might go to see a show.
And here’s another interesting tidbit about the opera house. The seats in the main performance hall (where unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures) were made out of materials chosen because they absorb the same amount of sound as a human body. This means that a diva who has been rehearsing in an empty hall isn’t startled by a change in tone when the house is packed on opening night.
Maybe that’s common in opera houses, or maybe it’s a musical urban legend. But it impressed me nonetheless. Interestingly, the author Jan Morris, whose book Sydney I have with me, says that Australians like to sniff that they have the best opera house in the world. The only problem, they say, is that the façade is in Sydney and the interior is in Melbourne. I didn’t see an opera in either place, so I can’t say if I think this is true.