The Sydney Opera House was fined $15,000 last week following a series of noise complaints made during Florence and the Machine’s concert in November 2015. The Forecourt performance attracted a crowd of 24,000 people.
The Department of Planning and Environment handed over the fine for sound breaches, based on the conditions of the original DA.
Between 2015 and now, the conditions have changed.
In 2016, the Opera House submitted an application to the council, asking them to reconsider the way acoustic levels are monitored during outdoor concerts.
Last year, the Opera House applied to change the rules, asking the council to reconsider the way acoustic levels are monitored during outdoor concerts. This was given the green light by the Department of Planning and Environment in October 2016, an important breakthrough. Noise limits are now measured from the front-of-house location, rather than from locations across the harbour. In the past, there were different “acceptable” volumes during the week, compared to the weekend. That’s all changed now: the Opera House can turn it up no matter what day of the week.
“[Florence and the Machines] is the first penalty notice received by the Opera House for noise breaches during outdoor events,” an Opera House spokesperson tells Broadsheet. “We’ve received minimal noise complaints from local residents over the years.”
“[The changes to the DA] have been working well, including the Crowded House Forecourt performances in November last year, which received positive feedback.”
But neighbours living in the Bennelong Apartments, known as the “Toaster”, would disagree. It’s 152 metres from the Opera House steps and Neil Finn’s guitar ruined their sleep.
No one wants to be that guy who breaks up a party. But with price tags of $22 million to live in the penthouse, they might not have budget left over for earplugs.
Alan Jones (a Toaster resident) is a vocal opponent, protesting against the shipping containers set up around the Opera House before these concerts, likening it to a “bomb site”.
The Bennelong residents have compiled a list of complaints, called The Trashing of the Opera House, which has been circulated to various government agencies, including the Premier’s office, UNESCO and the Heritage Council. Long letters have been pencilled accusing Opera House management of “trashing the icon”.
In the conversation with Broadsheet, the spokesperson for the Opera House brought up the Utzon Design Principles (2003), drawn up by the architect behind Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon. It says he always envisioned the Forecourt as a performance and event space – he described the intended use of the area as “a gathering place” and “outdoor auditorium.”
However, his son Jan Utzon says it’s not, in fact, in accordance with his father’s vision. "[I]t was always my father's intention that open-air performances could take place here …" he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"However, the current uses, with the clutter of invasive items and structures that seem to be part of these events at an increasingly alarming rate, were never planned or foreseen by him." Neil Finn was merely amused, saying to the crowd “let’s wake up Alan Jones”, and asking the crowd to sing as loud as they could to “keep Sydney open”.
Ah, you live in the Toaster ...look forward to annoying you for 3 more nights https://t.co/7TsHnbaSaY— neil mullane finn (@NeilFinn) November 24, 2016
But what does this mean for the future of Australia’s most iconic performing arts centre?
“There is no impact on current or future programming at the Opera House – we will continue to stage concerts on the Forecourt as have done for over 40 years,” the spokesperson says. It’ll be business as usual for the upcoming Vivid LIVE Music Festival too.