In late January, the 47-year-old Sydney Opera House welcomed the last headliner to its Concert Hall stage ahead of a major renovation that will close the venue's main performance space for the next two years. 

A rendering of the new Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in acoustic mode
A rendering shows the new concert hall with a lowered stage and reflectors to improve the acoustics © Sydney Opera House

The New South Wales government-funded project will upgrade the theatre’s machinery and staging systems, improving both acoustics and accessibility. Its completion is timed to the UNESCO World Heritage site’s 50th anniversary in 2023 and comes with an AU$150 million price tag. 

The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall's current acoustics feature clear acrylic ‘donuts’
The renovation will remove the clear acrylic "doughnuts" that are currently above the stage © Daniel Boud/Sydney Opera House

“The Opera House was built to serve the community. So it is vital that we ensure the building and its stages continue to evolve as the needs of our community change,” Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said in a press release. “Renewing the Concert Hall will enable us to present an even broader and more ambitious programme of classical and contemporary art in a venue that is more accessible, safer and better equipped. This is a historic moment for the Opera House.” 

Solange on stage with dancers and red lighting
Solange delivered the Concert Hall's final performance on 31 January before the venue closed for renovations © Daniel Boud/Sydney Opera House

A host of improvements are planned for the refurbishment, including replacing the clear acrylic doughnuts above the stage with reflectors and adding diffusion panels to improve the acoustics; lowering the stage to improve sightlines and improve backstage access. In addition, automated stage risers and a new system for lighting and scenery will be installed and accessible seats and toilets, along with a lift and a passageway that will provide wheelchair users with access to each level of the concert hall, will be included in the makeover.

A black-and-white shot of a 1972 acoustic test concert
An acoustic test concert in 1972, before the Opera House's official opening in 1973 © Sydney Opera House

The Opera House developed its approach to the acoustic upgrades in conjunction with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and acousticians Mϋller-BBM, who conducted a successful test of the prototype reflectors and drapes in 2017.

During the renovation, the Opera House will remain open for tours of the performance spaces and foyers, and the show will go on in the landmark's other venues, including its smaller theatres and outdoor spaces. 

“The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is excited about returning to a renewed Concert Hall, the iconic auditorium we've called home since its opening in 1973,” Sydney Symphony Orchestra CEO Emma Dunch said in a statement. “We are confident that the renewal works will transform the experience of hearing live symphonic music and mark a new era for classical music in this country.” 

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