Sydney Opera House.
For the past 30 years or so, it's been this iconic photograph for me. Not quite representative of my notions of Australia as a nation but accepted as a "National Symbol" nonetheless.
SOH is a postcard; a marker of Aussie superiority in all things just a "little-bit-out-there". It has appeared to be an aloof, austere and stand-offish kind of place reserved for those with money and elitist sensibilities.
For me, it was always two dimensional and tiny in photos. Sure! There was a sense of the building being "big" but in photos you never quite know "how big" do you? It was of course, a thing of beauty but sort of unearthly and unreal (in the not real sense of that term).
This Easter I got to see Sydney Harbour and the Opera House up close and personal for the very first time. Describing my reaction to and sense of this place though is somewhat difficult. Initially, I was more excited by the Harbour Bridge than I was about the Grand Old Dame across the harbour.
Still, seeing SOH for the first time "live" from across the harbour, on the lawn under the bridge at twilight was pretty awesome and inspirational to say the least. Sydney was lighting up before my eyes as the night sky grew darker. The awesome and mystical spectacle of the birds soaring above the bridge, under-lit by the bridge lights, making them appear like bobbing embers; surreal, strange. startling was what mainly drew my attention. But, the Grand Old Dame was furnishing her sails with lovely lights and soon appeared like a holographic postcard of Sydney at night - all that alluring etherealness. A life-size postcard to me even then though, but I stood there watching her with a growing sense of wonderment of the beauty of the building and a pull in the soul to go be there, to be under the sails and inside 'her' precinct.
Visiting SOH on the Saturday afternoon in the drizzling rain was again a different experience to what I expected. After romantic notions of her elusiveness and beauty ebbed, seeing this iconic building up close took on industrial sensibilities. It felt like it was still "Under Construction", the granite walls and forecourts all seemed very prosaic, practical and understated now. Perhaps it was the grey skies and interminable drizzle, but she felt like she was just piles of cement, bathroom tiles and textured pink granite. Quixotic, given her propensity to be so... so... billowy in photos
The grand sails, majestic as they are in photos, seemed somehow slightly "ordinary" as if the SOH was something understated and utilitarian rather than out of reach and elitist. There was something earthy about the place, a sense of more proletariat than bourgeoisie; a fecund, prosaic and down-to-earth grandeur rather than ethereal and sublime.
Being up close to the Opera House was quite, quite different to the sense I had of her in photos. In photos and on television, she glows like a spectre of transcendence, gloriously lit and wondrous. Standing on her steps, she seemed rather understated, like a stately and dignified dowager Aunt. I'd always imagined her being so much more an elusive "Prima Donna" than an approachable "Dowager" myself!
She is admirable though.
Superbly, wonderfully admirable.
My friend, MT and I did the basic tour. My legs and feet were pretty much killing me by now given the steps and hills I'm so not used to traversing on a regular basis. The tour of the Opera House included many, many more steps but we got a sneak peak at both the majestic concert hall and the understated impressiveness of the Opera Theatre.
There are other arena's too which we saw and admired.
The purple carpet was overwhelming.
The reflection of the harbour underneath her flared skirts of glass was divinely artistic.
But the thing that really got under my skin and made me love this building was how much she is about and for People. This is a building for The People. Regardless of age, colour, gender, race, religion or hairstyle, this building is a performing arts centre for the masses - however the masses choose to be or become. And there is pride in this fact. The SOH is yours, mine, ours, theirs and beyond. It is a building that epitomises the egalitarian values of artistic expression and accessibility to the theatres of every day life.
That we nearly "missed out" on achieving this building is a story all of its own. I am, however, remarkably satisfied by the experience of being there - and astonished that I found this building to be so much more....available...than I ever imagined.