Judith Isherwood: A Sydney Opera House for Wales

From a speech by the chief executive of Wales Millennium Centre, at the 'Western Mail' Business Awards in Cardiff
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Wales Millennium Centre, once it opens its doors in November 2004, will be an internationally significant performing arts centre presenting world-class opera, ballet, musicals and dance.

For three years I was Director of Performing Arts at the Sydney Opera House, and I have been particularly struck by the similarities in attitudes and opportunities between Wales and Australia.

When the Sydney Opera House opened in 1973, Australians had little pride in their own culture or their own artists, believing that quality and excellence had to come from overseas, in particular Britain, the United States or Europe. Indeed, Australian artists were forced to work overseas in order to be judged world-class by Australian audiences. Sir Robert Helpmann and Dame Joan Sutherland are prime examples from this era.

The vision for the Sydney Opera reflected a changing attitude in the 50s and 60s. The SOH was to be a world-class stage where Australia's own artists could perform to local audiences. It was also to be a stage on which international artists could perform, providing the means by which Australians could judge the calibre of its own artists.

The success of the Sydney Opera House has been so remarkable that Australian artists are now able to build major international careers while continuing to be based in Australia. Moreover, the highest calibre performing artists around the world consider the opportunity to perform there one of the pinnacles of their careers.

The success of the Sydney Opera House signalled to the world that Australia had come of age. All of this mirrors what I believe the Wales Millennium Centre will mean for Wales.