And so the days are filled...

25 August 2006

What I like about the Opera House

Sydneysiders will probably find this post completely boring. However, I think it's worth the while to stop and take stock of one's surroundings from time to time. So, on a trip to see a concert at the Sydney Opera House this week, I took some mental notes about what I would want to tell my blog readers about what it's like to go to see something in the Opera House itself.
Growing up in America the Opera House was one of only two things (the other being 'Ayers Rock' better known as Uluru) I could associate with Australia. My first contact with the Opera House, fortuitously, was from a boat on the harbour. There have been only a handful of moments in my life quite like the first sight of it. I was short of breath and full of elation. An hour later, contemplating the building from the land, I was tearful. The biggest shock of seeing the Opera House for the first time was its visceral qualities - at once, images and ideas crowded my mind - bird wings, reptile skin, fish scales, sailboats, piano strings, segments of an orange...
Several years down the track, I've 'learned to live with' the Opera House. For 4 years I travelled past it on a ferry twice a day going to and from work. Most days I never even glanced in its direction. For Sydneysiders, I think it's something that's always there, but not something we stop to consider very frequently. We leave the spot to the tourists for the most part, enjoying the view from afar, or sometimes venturing as far as the Opera Bar. I'm not a regular concert goer, I probably attend something in the Opera House about once a year. But those times that I do go and experience the place in its role that it was designed for, I am reminded of what a powerful building it is.
The main approach to the Opera House these days is by foot. You can also get a taxi to drop you off, but security considerations, etc, mean that very few people can actually drive up to the door. The Opera House is situated at the end of a long promenade, and you can see the sails from the distance as you approach. You can enter from a lower level, where the taxis pull up, but that's a bit boring, so it's best to climb the numerous low steps up to the main entrance, enjoying the way the sails gradually arise above you as you gain in altitude.
Once up on the main platform, you take in the massive heights, the spiny ribs, the beak- or spaceship- like protruberances of glass. You take in the other iconic bookend of Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You watch the people scurrying (if they're late) or sauntering (if they're early, or tourists) toward the entrances. You look back toward the city, and east toward the mouth of the harbour. The lights give you the sense of the place as a cave, as if you're looking inside the mouth of a giant beast, or you're Jonah trapped inside the whale.
A narrow passageway, abutted by protruding stairwells to interesting looking but off-limits places, takes you to your seat. Once inside, you find yourself in the great chamber, like Carlsbad Caverns, or the inside of a prehistoric skeleton. You notice the ribs neatly organise themselves in their march toward the ceiling, and the hefty proportions of the bases to the stall seating.
It doesn't matter what you hear. You are there.