Waagner-Biro again provides stage technology for the famous Sydney Opera House

Whoever thinks of Australia inevitably pictures the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect, Jørn Utzon. With more than 8.2 million visitors every year, it is one of the world’s busiest performing arts centres and Australia’s number one tourist destination.

Austrian-based company Waagner-Biro supplied the original theatre machinery for the JST, the home of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet and second-largest of the seven performance venues at the Opera House. Securing this prestigious tender in the 1960s contributed at the time to the international breakthrough of Waagner-Biro into the area of stage technology.

More than 40 years on, the JST machinery has now reached the end of its operational life and Waagner-Biro has again won the international tender to replace the critical technology. Upgrading the JST is the first major project in the Opera House’s ‘Decade of Renewal’,  the largest program of capital works undertaken since the building opened in 1973.

Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM described the Renewal program as one of the most exciting times in the Opera House’s history and highlighted the importance of the upgrades.

“Renewal will ensure that the Opera House is equipped to present the very best in performing arts. The Sydney Opera House is a masterpiece of creative genius, a work of art that is brought to life every day by the art performed on its stages,” Ms Herron said.

“The Joan Sutherland Theatre is one of the world’s hardest working theatres, each year delivering about 330 opera, ballet and other performances. Its 50 year-old ‘engine’ has worked hard and now needs to be replaced,” she said.

Waagner-Biro is building a new state-of-the-art flying system, a new rear stage lift and will restructure the orchestra podiums. The JST will be closed seven months while construction takes place, reopening in December 2017.

Technical details:

More than 100 hoists will be installed in the upper machinery on two levels: the upper level serves as a machine room, is decoupled acoustically and insulated to achieve the lowest noise emissions in the audience area. The lower level serves as the actual fly system, but it does not have any ropeways, thus making it ideal for setting up the point hoist system.

All winches have been optimised with regard to design and selection of components, in order to ensure the aforementioned noise protection on the one hand, and to meet the strict Australian standards on the other. Particular emphasis will be placed on arranging the winches in such a manner that allows ease of maintenance beneath the existing, geometrically sophisticated roof construction.

The heart of the JST is represented by the two backstage podiums. These create the connection between the “scene dock” at ground level and the stage, which is 10 metres above the “scene dock”. To ease all of the work behind the stage, the podiums are intended not only for the transportation of goods such as decorations, but also for transporting people. In addition, the podiums are also used for scene setting. Due to the wide range of uses, the requirements of availability, safety, speed and noise emissions are particularly important.

All equipment will be controlled in future by the Waagner-Biro CAT stage control and can therefore be operated centrally from a mixture of large, main operating consoles, wireless mobile operating consoles and some customer-specific operating consoles for special drives.

The software will provide the Opera House with a comprehensive solution: as well as the known features, the stage control also facilitates 3D visualisation and simulation including collision monitoring with the CAT Virtual Theatre, and complex 3D driving profiles that will allow flying artists to be followed automatically with CAT Flying Carpet and an interface to the light control around objects.