Opera for many people is a passion, for some an obsession, but for most it is simply one of life’s precious joys. 

As an opera-virgin, I was keen to understand a little more about it before I booked into my performance at the magnificent Sydney Opera House – well I thought I’d give myself a baptism of ultimate pleasure! To get some nitty-gritty information, I contacted our friends at Opera Australia who know pretty much all there is to know about the scene; this is what I discovered.

What is it that makes opera in Sydney so engaging?

Quite simply, Opera Australia creates approachability. It stages magnificent performances inside the various venues of the Sydney Opera House itself, but it also takes full advantage of the country’s temperate climate, by organising spectacular events outside too.

What events should visitors look out for?

If you are in Sydney between March and April, then you are in for a treat as this is when the annual pop-up wonderland appears on Sydney Harbour. Opera on Sydney Harbour combines all the things Sydney does best: world-class opera, fine dining, sparkling wine, sunsets, and fireworks. An astonishing, purpose-built outdoor venue is created in the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sydney Harbour. There are 3000 seats at the harbour’s edge with 5 food and beverage venues on site – a reason in itself to book your holiday to Sydney at this time! In 2016, from 28 October to 5 November you can see ‘Sydney Opera House—The Opera’, the story of building the Sydney Opera House, performed on the building’s steps. And of course, New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Opera House is a truly magical occasion that includes the opera and a midnight party, plus a delicious dinner should you wish!

What makes opera at the Sydney Opera House unique?

The Sydney Opera House is very central, and visitors as well as commuters will catch sight of the building from their train as it crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so there is a great sense of ownership. It puts on entertainment that reaches new audiences, and creates for them a magical evening that not only gives them a marvellous operatic performance, but combines meals too.  

Are performances scheduled all year round?

Pretty much! Nine months of the year is full of exciting and varied genres of opera. They fall into three seasons, Summer Opera Season, which is January – March, Winter Opera Season, June – August, and Spring Musical Season falling September – November.

How should I choose which opera to book?

You’ll be able to choose from criteria such as style of opera, including comedy, tragedy and epic, the length of the performance may also be important to you, but whichever you finally land on, it will be cleverly choreographed with beautifully detailed costumes and sets. Read through the synopsis and, if it appeals, book it!

Will I be able to look around the building?

A ticket to the opera gives you full access to the foyer of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, as well as exclusive access to the Northern Foyer bar, with stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the beautiful Harbour Bridge.

How will I understand what is going on, if the singing is in Italian for example?

Don’t panic and don’t rush out for a phrase book, English translations are projected above the stage for all performances.

Am I best reading the story of the opera before I visit?

Many people like to read the story before they attend, but it isn’t mandatory. You’ll be able to follow along with the subtitles. Plus, this is music you’ve been hearing your whole life on TV shows and in movies, so you’ll love listening along. You can also consult the ‘cheat sheet’ published for your chosen opera, which gives you a potted version of the storyline, a little about the composer, tips on highlights of the performance, and if you don’t object to a spoiler, you get follow the link to the full synopsis.

What should I wear? Is there a strict dress code?

Be comfortable – casual dress is quite acceptable at all performances at the Sydney Opera House.


What are your tips for enjoying an opera like an Australian?

Book an opera that appeals to you, meander through the Sydney streets taking in the vibe, approach on foot and inhale some fresh sea air, the walk up to the Opera House is splendid. Always allow plenty of time, this is not an experience to rush. Before taking your seats, sip a little Champagne while gazing out over the Sydney harbour from the foyer. After enjoying your opera, there will still be time to saunter back to your hotel for a nightcap and reflection on the evening’s story.

If visitors are new to opera, will they recognise any names?

People will undoubtedly know the musical My Fair Lady – this year it will be performed between August and November and directed by the Dame Julie Andrews, the original Eliza Doolittle herself. They’ll also recognize the names of the most popular operas in every season like La Boheme, Carmen, and La Traviata.


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