Sydney Opera House announces month-long 50th Birthday Festival for October

A month-long series of free community events, world-premieres, contemporary performance and public art has been announced for the Sydney Opera House’s 50th Birthday Festival in October.

Supported by the NSW Government’s Blockbusters Funding initiative, the festival marks the culmination of the year-long 50th anniversary season, and invites everyone to a celebration of the Opera House’s legacy and future.

The vibrant line-up of internationally renowned contemporary art, theatre, music and dance will kick off with a special and thought-provoking new public artwork by Quandamooka artist Megan Cope.

Using tens of thousands of kinyingarra (oyster in Jandai language) shells, Cope’s immersive sculptures expand the narrative beyond the Opera House, connecting it with Land, Sky and Sea Country through a First Nations lens.

The month-long program will include performances from one of the world’s finest chamber orchestras, Academy of St Martin in the Fields; an immersive portrait of Sydney and its people via a giant catwalk erected on the Forecourt; and a spectacular dance-theatre work, Message in a Bottle, featuring songs by Sting.

The festival will also offer an opportunity to hear Jan and Lin Utzon, who are travelling from Denmark for an in-conversation reflecting on the legacy of their father, the visionary Opera House architect Jørn Utzon.

Rounding out the celebrations is a free Open House Weekend that will give thousands of visitors the chance to walk in the footsteps of Opera House luminaries.

“Our October Birthday Festival is an invitation to everyone to experience the wonder of the Opera House and the art and artists who make the building sing,” said Sydney Opera House Director of Programming Fiona Winning.

The program of more than 50 events will bring to life the rich and diverse stories that have defined the Opera House for five decades, in a vibrant showcase of creativity and contemporary culture.

“The Opera House belongs to us all, and this festival is a joyous occasion for our community to come together and celebrate five decades of this extraordinary building,” said Ms Winning.

“Imagine Sydney without the Opera House. You can’t. You can’t underestimate the role Sydney Opera House has played inspiring millions of artists and audiences in Australian – and around the world,” said NSW Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, The Hon John Graham MLC.

“It is the symbol in a single picture that captures imaginations and communicates the best we can offer to the world – the building and all it houses is a place of ambition, creativity and ingenuity. It has shaped and reflected our identity, our stories and I look forward to another 50 years of programming.”

“This month-long festival is a fantastic opportunity for the people of NSW to join in the celebrations and honour this remarkable building on its 50th birthday,” said Minister Graham.

The Sydney Opera House’s 50th Birthday Festival line-up includes:


  • The festival will launch with a monumental public artwork by Quandamooka artist Megan Cope (28 September – 31 October). Drawing inspiration from Tubowgule as a historic place of ceremony, gathering and celebration, this thought-provoking new artwork will transform the Opera House site with First Nations storytelling. Cope will use more than 100,000 kinyingarra (oyster in Jandai language) shells to create a sculpture that honours the pre-settlement history of Tubowgule while considering the fragility of the broader environment. The installation will be accompanied by a series of public programs, with details to be announced soon. The public is invited to help bring this exciting new artwork to life at a series of free hands-on workshops to transform the 100,000 shells needed for this monumental installation.
  • What Is the City but the People (1 October) invites Sydneysiders who make up the fabric of our city to parade down a catwalk stretching the full length of the Opera House’s Forecourt, backed by live music and photographic and literary work developed by local artists, directed by Richard Gregory and created from an idea by Jeremy Deller. Presented with the City of Sydney as the local government partner.


  • To celebrate the official birthday weekend, the Opera House will throw open its doors over two days for Open House Weekend (21 – 22 October), welcoming thousands of visitors to explore one of the world’s most celebrated buildings. The first open day held in almost eight years, this free, open-to-all invitation is a rare and unique opportunity to explore the Opera House’s famous stages and behind-the-scenes areas.
  • Dimanche (12 – 21 October) is a dynamic physical theatre and puppetry show that paints a witty and tender portrait of a family trying to preserve their normal rituals amid the forces of climate catastrophe. A show for all the family in the Playhouse.


  • The Opera House is excited to welcome one of the world’s finest chamber orchestras, Academy of St Martin in the Fields with virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell as Music Director, to perform three concerts in the newly transformed Concert Hall from 7 – 9 October.


  • From 13 – 20 October, a stellar line-up of some of Australia’s best contemporary music artists will take over the Joan Sutherland Theatre and Concert Hall stages, including the phenomenal ARIA-nominated Gumbaynggirr and Yamatji singer-songwriter Emma Donovan (20 October) making her headline debut, and an epic farewell performance by Australian indie-rock trio Camp Cope (13 October), with more to come.


  • Chi Udaka (18 – 21 October) will bring together the scintillating drumming of Taikoz with the classical Indian dance styles of Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi by the Lingalayam Dance Company for a mesmerising performance in the Drama Theatre.
  • Combining gravity-defying hip hop and contemporary dance with breath-taking music, Message In A Bottle (25 – 29 October) is a spectacular new dance-theatre work from Sadler’s Wells Theatre and Universal Music UK. This internationally acclaimed production by award-winning choreographer Kate Prince tells an extraordinary story of humanity and hope, set to the music of iconic artist Sting.
  • Sibyl (2 – 4 November) is a rich sensory experience melding exquisite music, powerful vocals, and compelling visuals from visionary South African artist William Kentridge, with music by Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Kyle Shepherd. The evening of two parts begins with The Moment Has Gone – a 22-minute film with live vocals and piano, followed by Waiting for the Sibyl – a 42-minute chamber opera featuring nine performers and piano.


  • In an Australian exclusive from landmark performance artist Taylor Mac and musical collaborator Matt Ray, Bark of Millions (20 October) is an epic rock-opera meditation on queerness presented in association with New York based Pomegranate Arts. Bark of Millions stages 54 original songs – representing 54 years since the Stonewall uprising – in a spectacular musical journey through queer culture performed by a global ensemble of artists, including Australian Mama Alto.


  • For one night only, Jan and Lin Utzon will reflect on the legacy of their father, the visionary Opera House architect Jørn Utzon. In collaboration with the UNSW Sydney, the special event will explore the architectural brilliance of a building that is admired around the world. The talk will be held in the Joan Sutherland Theatre on the 17 October with John Coburn’s stunning Curtain of the Sun tapestry as the backdrop.
  • In collaboration with Museums of History NSW, the Opera House will present a panel and performance honouring the life of Harold Blair AM, the first Australian Aboriginal opera singer (18 October) to perform at the Opera House in 1973. Host Daniel Browning, a Bundjalung and Kullilli journalist and broadcaster, will be joined by Nerida Blair; Blair’s daughter, Don Christopher and Nina Korbe – First Nations opera singers with family links to Blair’s birthplace; and Kim Walker, choreographer of the ballet, Harold, who has been inspired by Blair’s life.


  • Music of the Sails is a celebration of our cultural icon and a glimpse into future possibilities. The Interactive Media lab at UNSW and music technologists Uncanny Valley will use A.I. processes to recompose the sounds and data from the building into a unique musical soundscape.
  • 50/50 will dig deep into the archive to bring audiences 50 consecutive days of rare and unseen recordings, spanning opera, classical, dance, theatre, contemporary music, documentaries, and livestreams – all free and exclusive to Stream.

For more information about the Sydney Opera House’s 50th Birthday Festival visit: for details.

Image: Sibyl – photo by Stella Olivier