The Eighth Wonder

The Eighth Wonder

"The Eighth Wonder" is an opera by Alan John and with a libretto by Dennis Watkins. It was premiered at the Sydney Opera House on October 14, 1995.

The premiere performance was warmly received and the audience rose to its feet at the conclusion and roundly cheered Alan John and Dennis Watkins, the composer/librettist team who were both present.


The opera tells the story of the very building in which it was performed. Soon after the building was commissioned and work had commenced the State Premier who administered its genesis died.

The opera suggests that the Premier believed that if the work was not sufficiently advanced and there was a change of government then the project would be cancelled. Therefore the foundation work was commenced before the architect had solved the problem of how to build the main structure of the building. The time and cost estimates were also understated to ensure work commenced. There were many other engineering and design problems that had not been solved when work had commenced.

The opera supports the idea that the architect was fully competent to solve these problems and indeed was able to provide solutions that were far more elegant than anything that anyone less inspired, less talented and at one with a vision could provide.

Some time after that there was indeed a change of government. There was much hostility toward the building and the new government was not willing to let the architect complete the project. Much scandal was made of the time and cost of the project. The state bureaucracy wrested control from its architect and the architect's intentions for the interiors of the building were never realised. The architect left the country and disowned the building.

Characters in the opera include the politicians, the architect, an engineer, socialites, and a prominent conductor (the maestro) who betrays the cause of opera for the cause of concert music (see full cast list below). There are also two young artists who firmly idenitify their future with the building. The names of the characters do not match their real-life counterparts and there are, no doubt, certain other fictional elements.

There is a large chorus and the music is quite accessible, with several bright choral climaxes. The opera consists of two acts, with a total of 15 scenes including Parliament House, the construction site and the suburban backyard where the young artists spend time with their families.

The opera concludes leaving the audience with a sense of loss for the complete vision that was never realised but also with an enormous sense of gratitude and wonderment that as much of that vision that has been completed has been.

Perhaps the opera is not destined for the same greatness as the flawed masterpiece that is its subject, but the Sydney audience loved to see its own history told on stage. It is a very important story for this city as the building has become such an important part of its identity.

The opera was broadcast on television by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the Friday evening following the world premiere performance.

World Premiere Cast

*Conductor - Richard Gill
*Director - Neil Armfield
*The Architect - David Hobson
*Alexandra Mason - Clare Gormley
*Politician/High Priest - John Pringle
*The Engineer - Roger Lemke
*Stephen Goldring - Anthony Elek
*The Maestro - Donald Shanks
*The Premier - Robert Gard
*Sky/Aunt Olive/Tour Guide - Emma Lysons
*Earth/Aunt Jean/Miss Hodges - Linda Calwell
*Madame Magda - Heather Begg
*Ken Mason/Aide de Camp - Geoffrey Chard
*Mrs Mason/The Queen - Kerry Elizabeth Brown
*Juror/Government Spokesman - David Brennon
*Architect's Daughter/Clare Goldring - Catherine Kelso
*Socialites - Anne Way, Caroline Clack, Judith Fay-Taylor
*Socialite/Second Woman - Dawn Walsh
*Art Lovers - Scott Hannigan, Christopher Bath, Leslie Andrews
*Music Lover - Jin Tea Kim
*Reporters - Stephen Mathews, Nicholas Davidson
*MP's Wife/First Woman - Susan Barber
*Government MP - David Aston
*Second Government MP/Opposition MP - David Lewis
*Onlooker/Foreman - David Aston
*Italian Worker - Mario Alafaci
*Writer - Christoper Bath
*Speaker - Geoffrey Crook
*Government Whip - Robert Mitchell
*Olympic Swimmer - Simon Beckett
*Warrior Prince - Jason Moore
*Architect's Wife - Amber Simpson

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