THE OPERA HOUSE

No other symbol or place is more recognizable as representative of Sydney than the famous Opera House. Its plan won a contest over 233 other entries in 1955. Its construction was plagued with difficulties, taking from 1959 to 1973, costing more than 100 million dollars. (The original estimate in 1957 was seven million dollars. Oops.) Jorn Utzon, the designer, was forced out early on and became hostile to the project. Many difficulties had to be overcome because of the unique design, which was changed or modified in a number of ways. The sail-like roofs eminate from the radius measurement of a single circle. The roof is comprised of more than a million glazed granite tiles imported from Sweden. With more than 1,000 rooms, the facility houses five theaters, the largest of which seats 2,679 people. The Concert Hall contains the largest mechanical tracker pipe organ in the world. There are also five rehearsal studios, two main halls, four restaurants, six bars and numerous souvenir shops.

Walking to the Opera House at the end of Bennelong Point, former site of a tram depot, one passes numerous restarants with outdoor tables and colorful lights. Sitting in one such place a week ago, drinking our hot chocolate, Linda and I soaked up the incomparable atmosphere and setting, not unlike a set for an opera -- the ferry boats, the towering condos, the street musicians, the rainbow-like arch of the bridge, the night sky, the street lights, the sounds and smells and constant passing parade.

Three years ago, on a different visit to Australia, I saw a one woman cabaret act entitled Vamp, staged in the 364-seat studio theate in the lower level of the Opera House. It was quite exceptional and memorable. Some two million people attend 3,000 annual performances here, including touring theater, ballet and musical productions, and performances by the Sydney Theatre Company, Opera Australia, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Certainly there is no more recognized fine arts venue in the world.

On October 20, 1973, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Opera House. The massive cost was paid off a few years later through a public lottery system. A website I visited points out that in 1997, French urban climber, Alain "Spiderman" Robert, using only his bare hands and feet and with no safety devices of any kind, scaled the building's exterior wall all the way to the top. He picked the right place for a great performance.

I took this photo from the deck of Rhapsody of the Seas.