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Time Out's guide to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Everything you need to know about Sydney's annual harbourside spectacular – and how to do it like a boss.
HOSH 2012 La Traviata (Photograph: Lisa Tomasetti)
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Photograph: Lisa TomasettiLa Traviata (2012)
HOSH 2013 & 2017 Carmen (Photograph: James Morgan)
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Photograph: James MorganCarmen (2013 & 2017)
HOSH 2014 Madama Butterfly (Photograph: James Morgan)
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Photograph: James MorganMadama Butterfly (2014)
HOSH 2015 Aida (Photograph: Daniel Boud)
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Photograph: Daniel BoudAida (2015)
HOSH 2016 Turandot (Photograph: Hamilton Lund)
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Photograph: Hamilton LundTurandot (2016)
HOSH 2018 La boheme (Photograph: Prudence Upton)
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Photograph: Prudence UptonLa Boheme (2018)
By Dee Jefferson and Time Out editors |
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Anyone who says they go to the opera for the sound quality is lying; if you want the ultimate version of any given opera, you sit at home with your Bose headphones and your imagination. But if you want the spectacle and emotion of the opera, head to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH), Opera Australia's now-annual outdoor production at Mrs Macquarie's Point.

Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini wanted to make opera a populist form again – and he has abundantly succeeded with Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. The recipe is simple but brilliant: take one stunning outdoor location with a world-class view, add spectacular, over-the-top set design, razzle-dazzle costumes, dance routines and acrobatics; into this mix, drop one high-drama opera classic, and a couple of international star leads. Finish with a dash of fireworks, and serve in possibly the best, balmy summer Sydney has to offer.

The result is the perfect potion – the glitzy visuals and hyperactive energy of a Broadway musical mixed with world-class opera. Even better, the themed food and drinks menu, consumed while overlooking the harbour as dusk falls, renders your purchase a bona fide experience, and worth the hefty price.

For its eighth edition in 2019, Opera Australia is doing something a bit different and staging its first musical on the grand harbourside stage: West Side StoryFor what it's worth, we think it's the perfect choice for the event – it's a tragic tale, operatic in scale, and features some of the most exciting music ever written for a musical.

DO HOSH LIKE A BOSS

Wear: Something fancy AND warm, and bring something waterproof (see below); consider comfortable shoes because there are quite a lot of stairs you have to traverse in order to navigate the site! And there will be a ten minute walk towards Hyde Park, if you don't find a cab at the end of the night.

Eat: The site opens from 5pm to accommodate pre-show dining, and there are five different food outposts, each offering a different style of cuisine, and varying levels of formality (and, ahem, price). Opera Australia usually themes the dining to the show, and this time there are New York-style diner meals and Cuban-inspired pizzas.

At the luxe end, try a three-course Platinum Club set menu ($245 or a pared back $130). Bookings are essential.

For a more casual option, there's a range of salads, hot Cuban dishes and decadent American desserts on the North Terrace, and smaller bites on Southern Terrace ($8-$20), where you'll be able to pick your tribe – the Shark burger is grilled chicken with streaky bacon and chipotle mayo; the Jet burger is wagyu beef with American cheese.

Another casual option is the Northern Cantina, on the waterfront, which offers share plates and hearty main courses that you can eat at tables beside the Harbour.

If you're simply snacking, the Qantas Garden Bar (as you enter the venue) is selling small bites and some very fancy desserts.

Drink: Champagne! It's the opera. No really, drink whatever you want (there's a decent selection of local wines available at bars all around the venue) – but we love that they have coffee on site. Operas are long and West Side Story is two and a half hours.

Turn up: by 7pm latest for a 7.30pm performance. As mentioned, the site is not quite as straightforward as the Joan Sutherland Theatre (Opera Australia's usual home) – and you want to have time to queue for a glass of bubbles and find your seat.

What if it rains? THE SHOW GOES ON. Really. Unless there are electrical storms or extremely high winds and/or rain. You won't be able to put up an umbrella (for obvious reasons), so wear something waterproof or buy a $5 biodegradable poncho on site. They do wipe down the seats for you on arrival, we noted.

Can I Insta this? Yes you can – but photography of any kind is prohibited during the performances, so limit those stage shots to pre- and post-show or during the interval.

Top of the HOSH: a hit list of operas

On Stage at La Boheme Opera Sydney Harbour
Photograph: Prudence Upton

HOSH 2018: La Boheme

We said: "It’s an opera with big emotional impact, but is mostly played out in intimate scenes. Director Andy Morton... has made a valiant effort."

Time Out says
Carmen Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2017 production still FIREWORKS full stage wide credit Prudence Upton
Photograph: Prudence Upton

HOSH 2017: Carmen

We said: "It’s understandable that Opera Australia would want to remount this Carmen – it’s irrepressibly modern and eminently watchable."

Time Out says
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Turandot Opera Sydney Harbour 2016
Photograph: Daniel Boud

HOSH 2016: Turandot

We said: "There’s nothing wrong with having a winning formula – but this production often feels more like a congruence of ingredients than a fully satisfying dish."

Time Out says
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2015 Aida production image 01 (c) Time Out Sydney photographer credit Daniel Boud
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Theatre

HOSH 2015: Aida

We said: "A full frontal assault on the senses: the sea breeze; the skyline, the stars, a crescent moon; the glittering, kaleidoscope spectacle."

Time Out says
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Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2013 Carmen production image 01 photo credit James Morgan courtesy Opera Australia
Photograph: James Morgan
Theatre

HOSH 2013: Carmen

We said: "The perfect potion – the glitzy visuals and hyperactive energy of a Broadway musical mixed with world-class opera."

Time Out says
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Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2012 production image courtesy Opera Australia
Photograph: Lisa Tomasetti
Theatre

HOSH 2012: La Traviata

We said. "The sliver of moon peeping through the clouds during Violetta’s ‘e strano!’ aria is about as good as 'atmosphere' gets."
Time Out says

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