Sydney Opera House Gets Major Upgrade to Fix Hated Acoustics

Sydney Opera House

SYDNEY—Sydney’s iconic Opera House will undergo a sweeping, multimillion-dollar makeover, including a long-awaited upgrade to its much-maligned acoustics, officials said Thursday.

The 202 million Australian dollar ($155 million) project is the largest renovation Australia’s most famous landmark has undergone since it opened in 1973, and will involve the creation of a new entrance and the refurbishment of its main performance space, the Concert Hall.

“The Sydney Opera House is the symbol of modern Australia. It is our responsibility as custodians of this extraordinary place to maintain and renew it for all Australians,” New South Wales Minister for the Arts Troy Grant said in a statement.

Though the building’s exterior is universally admired for its dramatic, sweeping sails, its interior has long drawn the wrath of musicians who complain about the poor quality of the Concert Hall’s acoustics.

In 1999, one of Australia’s leading symphony orchestras threatened to boycott the venue, saying the acoustics absorb the sound and drain performances of their energy. Edo de Waart, then the chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was quoted as saying that doughnut-shaped reflectors built above the orchestra pit to bounce the sound into the hall were a joke. “They might as well be toilet seats,” he said at the time. “They do nothing whatsoever.”

Sydney Symphony Orchestra Managing Director Rory Jeffes said on Thursday that the orchestra had been closely involved in the refurbishment plans, which will include a new acoustic ceiling and reflectors to improve sound in the Concert Hall.

“For the first time the Concert Hall will deliver the true ambitions of the original creators of this incredible building — and the real winners will be the audiences,” Jeffes said in a statement.

Construction on the Concert Hall will begin in mid-2019, with the upgrade expected to take 18 months.

The building’s second-largest performance space, the Joan Sutherland Theatre, is also being revamped. The AU$45 million renovation, announced last year, will close the theater between May and December next year, though the building’s five other performance spaces will remain open.

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