Arriving at 6:30 AM, a little earlier than I'm used to showing up for a tour, I was greeted warmly by my tour guide, Bruce, whose enthusiasm soon made me forget the early hour. We quickly got to one of the best parts, walking onto the main stage. The feeling of standing on the great stage and looking out over the empty seats was overwhelming. I can only imagine what it would be to see a vast audience staring back at me. The rows of seats seemed to go on forever and Bruce informed me that the audience capacity of the main concert hall is 2,679 people.
While the experience of standing on the stage was impressive, intimidating and humbling, that turned out to be nothing compared with experiencing the orchestra pit, set below the stage and mostly beneath the floor of the auditorium. The importance of the conductor's job is obvious since few if any of the orchestra members can see anything that's going on up on the stage. Bruce encouraged me to stand in the conductor's place and handed me the baton. As I assumed control of my imaginary orchestra, I really appreciated being the only guest on the tour!
The Sydney Opera House is far more than just the main stage. Bruce escorted me through just a few of the 300 corridors and past a small fraction of the 1,000 rooms that make up the complex. I particularly enjoyed visiting one of the dressing rooms reserved for the biggest stars. Spacious and boasting a view out across the water to the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the room housed several comfortable chairs and a grand piano. It turned out I was standing in front of the piano in what had been Prince's dressing room.
If the view behind the scenes was impressive, the view from audience was equally exhilarating. After I'd tried my hand at conducting the orchestra, played a tune on Prince's piano, worked on my ballet skills in one of the rehearsal rooms and even sung a bit of “Old Man River” on the main stage, it was time to leave it to the professionals and attend a performance. The show was “My Fair Lady,” the director was Julie Andrews and the conductor was every bit as good I had been in my imagination.