The House is the economically direct title of a new book about ‘the dramatic story of the Sydney Opera House and the people who made it’ by Helen Pitt (Allen&Unwin). Before it opened, she tells us, there were some who wanted to call it the Sydney Entertainment Centre, fearing that the word ‘opera’ implied pearls and mink coats. Thank goodness that view didn’t prevail or it would have sounded like every other performance complex. There is a bit of an industry in books about the House. The first, even before it opened, was Michael Baume’s The Sydney Opera House Affair (1967), still one of the most illuminating. In more recent times there have been several which are referenced by Helen Pitt: Reviewing the Performance, a balanced assessment by Ken Woolley (2010); The Poisoned Chalice: Peter Hall and the Sydney Opera House by Anne Watson (2017). Surprisingly Pitt doesn’t reference the biography Ove Arup: Masterbuilder of the 20th Century (2006) by Peter Jones. Arup, the Danish structural engineer, was the other key player alongside Utzon, who reluctantly came to the view Utzon needed to be replaced.
The House is a considered and considerate book. Although greatly admiring of Utzon’s vision, Helen Pitt does not embrace the NSW Labor narrative of Utzon as a secular saint or martyr. She is fair to Hall, Todd & Littlemore and throughout is lively and pleasantly gossipy. She concludes: ‘..I see it as equal parts tragedy, equal parts triumph, with a cast of characters to rival any opera…’
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