ACO Premiere of 'Mountain' at Sydney Opera House

The scent of the Sydney Opera House

ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti on 50 years of the iconic Sydney Opera House.

There is a scent to the Sydney Opera House, a particular essence that intensifies as you ascend the stairs to the Concert Hall, it somehow gets in your guts. Part of me was hoping that the recent renovations would eliminate this scent, because it triggered the “excitement of performance” (read, nervous anticipation). Yet, to my surprise, the scent remained unaltered. As we walked up those stairs to trial the acoustics after the renovation, the familiar mix of acrid and sweet notes flooded back, provoking a rush of memories and emotions.

Sydney Opera House_Interior

It’s the whiff of significance that surrounds events at the Sydney Opera House, the representative symbol of our city. This is the House which announces itself: Sydney at its best, everybody.

Those sails, its spacious forecourt, and the imposing pictures of Dame Joan from her Gala Finale set the tone for the serious, portentous events taking place within. I have a vivid childhood memory of attending a concert in the Sydney Opera House in the mid-1970s, with Yehudi Menuhin performing. Even then I recall the acoustics to be washy and diffuse. But last year, when we all held our breath, the renovations revealed a clarity hitherto buried.

My earliest memory of performing in the SOH must have been an Eisteddfod (an archaic music competition). I recall feeling daunted by the space and the grandeur of the building.

The Reef

When reflecting on the ACO’s performances over the years, there are several that stand out in my mind. Undoubtably, one of the most memorable was our 2012 surf film, The Reef (above). This embodied everything we strive for: mysterious, uncompromising, raucous, delicate and daring. It drew a crowd with divergent countenances to the usual types who listen to ‘our kind of music’; yet because of the synergy with the visuals we were able to hypnotise our neophyte captives into the worlds of Beethoven, Ligeti and beyond, with a splattering of Alice in Chains et al. along the way.

Richard Tognetti in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall

If one likes the look of a packed house and the thunderous sounds of a standing ovation, then our recent Tawadros meets Vivaldi would be your ticket. Similarly, our Mountain film project was packed with thrills.

On the other hand our “controversial” The Crowd & I (pictured below) was received with stunned, epiphanic reverence (if you will permit us to be sanguine).

But Weimar with the late, great Barry Humphries, our 2013 exploration of and testament to the uniquely imaginative music that emerged from 1920s and 30s Berlin, the period leading up to the rise of German National Socialism – music that has seeped into all our souls more than you’ll ever know – is personally my most cherished performance.

Sydney Opera House_Crowd


Click here to discover the ACO at Sydney Opera House through the decades.