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07.01.2021 Australia

Singin' and dancin' as Sydney Opera opens for business after 10 months in the dark

By Richelle Harrison Plesse - RFI
REUTERS/David Gray
LISTEN JAN 7, 2021
REUTERS/David Gray

Forced to dim the lights last March as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, the Sydney Opera House has made a triumphant return, staging its first performance before a live audience in nearly 10 months.

The foyer of the Sydney Opera House is a glittering blur of well-heeled ladies in sequined frocks and dapper gentlemen in tuxedos. Socially distanced, of course.

There's a palpable buzz as theatre-goers gather for the opening night performance of the beloved operetta "The Merry Widow". 

"I'm delighted, it's been a long time," says Janine. "Australia has world-class opera; to be able to be in the Opera House and go back and see our wonderful company performing - it's a real thrill!"

Fellow spectator Stephen agrees. "It's very exciting to be back. It's a lot better than watching it on television!"

Covid casts its shadow

But a night at the opera is not the same as it used to be in this new Covid world.

The Sydney venue has been forced to reduce its capacity to 75 percent, while attendees must all wear face masks.

"If this is what we have to do to come out, well then that's what we have to do," says Lisa. 

Simon, meanwhile, hopes this is the start of a busier, albeit Covid-safe, cultural calendar. "It's a very cautious approach, and I think people are probably right to be cautious," he says.

"Although it's not completely satisfactory to be sitting here with masks and not many people in the audience, we have to take little steps in order to get back to where we'd like it to be, which is back to normal."

Australia heads towards 'Covid normal'

With low case numbers, Australia is taking steps towards a so-called "Covid normal", as other countries continue to grapple with a second or third wave of the virus and enforce extended lockdowns.

Nonetheless, cultural venues like the Sydney Opera House remain alert to the possibility of another round of cancelled performances. 

The famous Australian landmark is in a rare and privileged position while much of the world's performing arts sector has ground to a halt - paralysed by the pandemic.

Opera Australia says it's the only opera company in the world currently performing to a live audience.

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