Celebrating 50 years of Australia’s leading architectural and cultural icon

The Museum of Sydney is hosting a new exhibition, ‘The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50’ in celebration of five decades of the iconic World Heritage-listed building.

Opening on 1 July, the free exhibition invites locals and visitors behind the scenes to explore 50 years of this extraordinary architectural icon and its impact on the cultural and social life of Sydney and the nation.

Curated by the Museums of History NSW in partnership with the Sydney Opera House, the exhibition invites guests to relive the magic of the building’s early years and discover some of the remarkable stories that have shaped the Opera House.

Known for its distinctive silhouette, the Opera House, which opened in 1973, soon captured the imagination of the nation as a symbol of modern Australia.

“We are delighted to help celebrate a milestone anniversary for this architectural masterpiece and beacon of artistic expression,” says Martyn Killion, chief operating officer, Museums of History NSW.

The exhibition honours the incredible architectural achievement and showcases the broad range of productions, performances and events that have shaped the building into ‘the people’s house’ we know today. Visitors can explore rare archival records, programs, posters, exquisite costumes, photographs, set boxes, architectural drawings, models, artworks and classic souvenirs.

“In a first for MHNSW, The People’s House brings material and memorabilia from our collection together with the collections of the NSW cultural institutions, the Opera House’s resident companies and the Arts Centre Melbourne, who have generously contributed significant items to help bring this exhibition alive,” Killion added.

Sydney Opera House chief customer officer Jade McKellar said, “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the Museums of History NSW on this very special exhibition that uncovers some of the remarkable stories, unforgettable moments, and history-making events that have shaped the cultural life of Sydney and the nation for the past five decades. I hope people everywhere come along to view this interactive display during our 50th anniversary celebrations.”

Exhibition themes

Prelude: The first performances at the Opera House during its construction, from musical renditions amid the scaffolding to the acoustic sound tests in the Concert Hall.

Grand openings: The long-anticipated Gala Opening on 28 September 1973 was the first in a series of celebrations. The opening festival began on 17 October, and on 20 October, to great fanfare and international attention, the Opera House was officially declared open by Queen Elizabeth II.

Act one: A remarkable variety of productions and events took place in the Opera House’s first year that would set the stage for the next 50 years.

Resident companies: Some of the key performances in the first decade of the Opera House were staged by five resident companies specialising in music, dance, theatre, opera and puppetry. Today, the Opera House is home to eight resident companies.

Showtime!: Posters from 1973 to the early 2000s evoke the extraordinary variety of local and international productions and the performers who have taken their place in the spotlight.

An Opera House in every home: Keepsakes and souvenirs of the Opera House show how we have brought the ‘people’s house’ into our own homes.

The great urban sculpture: Celebrates the remarkable design, architecture, and engineering challenges of the Opera House. From its inception and construction in the late 1950s under the direction of Danish architect Jørn Utzon AC until his withdrawal in 1966 to Australian architect Peter Hall who completed the project in 1973, and more recent renovation and renewal projects.

The exhibition also features a specially commissioned woven Opera House by First Nations master weavers Steven Russell and Phyllis Stewart responding to the iconic Shellwork Sydney Opera House produced by renowned First Nations artist, Esme Timbery in 2002.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore the Opera House’s architecture through a playful LEGO® model, test their drawing skills on a digital drafting table, and conduct a virtual orchestra in Maestro – an interactive space where people can collaborate in the creation of an audio-visual performance.

Exhibition details

What: The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50

Where: Museum of Sydney, cnr Phillip and Bridge streets

When: Opening 1 July, 2023 until Sunday 12 November, 2023
Cost: Free

Image credits:

Fireworks on the night of Opera House’s official opening, 20 October, 1973. (c) Government Printing Office, MHNSW collection

The official party climbing the monumental steps – Opera House’s opening ceremony. 20 October 1973. (c) MHNSW collection

Onlookers seated on the monumental steps for the Opera House’s opening ceremony. October 20th 1973. (c) Government Printing Office, MHNSW