New research by OA and the SOH has found more than half of Sydneysiders have never stepped foot into the iconic building to watch an opera. A significantly higher percentage of younger people aged under 40 years had been to an opera than older generations.

Of the 43 per cent surveyed that had visited the opera, many had done so as a one-off experience – ticking off their bucket list; the result of a school excursion; or a milestone birthday celebration.

Neither Moncrieff and Wasson, who travelled from Sydney’s far west, were intimidated stepping inside the Sydney Opera House, though both had never seen live opera before.

“I’m happy to try new things all the time, it’s a case of why not?” Ms Wasson said. “I do see a lot of musicals in the entertainment world, very occasionally I’ll go to concerts. I used to dance when I was younger so I do like that performing aspect, and especially at the moment with everything online and digital, live theatre is something to capture our attention.”

Ms Moncrieff, a Qantas flight attendant, was keen for an insider’s peek. “Not a lot of people are aware of what goes on behind the scenes and the level of artistic expression that goes on in the making of the final product,” she said.

Growing up, opera would never have been “first choice” for a family outing, Ms Moncrieff says. “My parents took me to [Australia’s] Wonderland and holidays on the beach, we’d go out to dinner or play board games at home, the arts weren’t really on the menu. I got into it after I left school and I now paint.”

Back on stage after COVID-19 devastated its 2020 season and blasted a multi-million dollar crater in its budget, the OA is opening its summer season with the crowd-pleasing The Merry Widow.

The Merry Widow is a story of lovers’ spats, gold-digging aristocrats, bumbling suitors, and glittering parties – all set in art deco Paris.

“I wanted to do The Merry Widow coming out of this annus horribilis because quite frankly we do La Boheme every year, and Mimi dies of a terrible disease, tuberculosis, and I didn’t think that was a good look and I wanted us to have fun,” said Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini.

The two leads of West Side Story on Sydney Harbour, Julie Lea Goodwin and Alexander Lewis, head the all-Australian cast directed by Graeme Murphy. Both Ms Moncrieff and Ms Wasson appreciated Murphy’s spirited choreography, the show’s humour, and its high production values. They would not hesitate to see the opera again, wondering out loud about the cost of tickets.

“When I was watching it I felt I was in their world and I think that is important,” Moncrieff says.

Relief came when the women realised The Merry Widow was performed in English. “We have both worked overseas before and we find that Australians honestly aren’t too tolerant of other languages,” Ms Moncrieff says. “We like everyone to be able to speak English so being an English opera it is very easy to connect and it takes the complete worry away of not being able to understand it.”

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They had also stressed about not dressing correctly and disrespecting the artists. Ms Wasson had swapped jeans for a dress at the last minute, only to be assured on arrival of a relaxed dress code.

Part of the battle of overcoming misconceptions that “people who go to Sydney Opera House are toffs” came down to changing the attitude of the country’s political leaders, Mr Terracini says. Regrettably, they preferred to be photographed at the football than at the opera.

“It’s a pity. Angela Merkel will see Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Opera and it’s a very important statement to make about the importance of your place, and I would argue that the culture of Australia is extremely important.”

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