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A must-do: Sydney Opera House backstage tour

Backstage at the Sydney Opera
Backstage at the Sydney Opera
(Credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

When you visit Australia, don't miss Sydney. When you visit Sydney, see the Opera House. Go to a performance if you can, and take a guided backstage tour for a VIP look at everything behind the scenes.

Sydney, Australia -- It's a long way to Australia from just about anywhere. Quite likely, you've got a long list of sights to see and things to do. Here's one more suggestion you can squeeze in with no trouble, since the Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour starts bright and early. And besides, you've probably got jet lag of the highest order.

The old performing arts joke
You may have heard the old joke about the New York City visitor who asked, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall? The
punch line is: "Practice, practice, practice." Unless you're in training to become the next Dame Joan Sutherland or Luciano Pavarotti, you won't find any other way to get onstage here.

Extraordinarily distinctive
Perched on Bennelong Point at the edge of sparkling Sydney Harbor, this building is without question one of the world's best known silhouettes, among the very top examples of 20th century architecture. Something about it is thrilling, uplifting in a way that few structures are. Having seen the opera house often in photos, it's almost unsettling to stand before it. Better yet, from among the eight million people who set foot in the building every year, you're going inside this UNESCO World Heritage-listed place with VIP access.

Behind-the-scenes
There are a few tours offered at the gorgeous Sydney Opera House. Best of all is the expertly guided tour that takes your small group behind the wings, onstage, into the dressing rooms, behind the scenery lifts, up to the crawl spaces and down into the orchestra pit. In the concert hall, you'll see actual musical scores up close, stand behind the gleaming timpani drums and even step up on the conductor's podium, stick in hand, conducting an imaginary orchestra for a great photo opportunity. Ballet lovers will delight in standing at the barre onstage, taking a twirl in the rehearsal room, breezing past labeled boxes of pink silk toe shoes and hanging rails of glittery starched tutus tagged and ready for the evening performance.

Forty years later
Your tour guide is generous with the insider information, providing astonishing details about accidents -- even deaths -- that have occurred due to human error, complications or malfunctions of the massive backstage machinery. You'll learn how the 1957 building design competition of £5,000 was awarded to Jørn Utzon, an untested Danish architect. You'll hear details of his controversial resignation in 1966 and why he never saw the building's 1973 completion. You'll admire the soaring bulk supported by 588 concrete piers sunk 82 feet into the sea, its roof decorated by over one million custom-made tiles that threw the construction and budget wildly off. You'll hear about the ongoing project to scoop out a massive new underground loading dock, a project intended to complete by the end of 2014.

Early bird special
Arrive via the back door at 6:45 a.m. for a prompt start at 7:00 a.m. Tickets are $148.50 each including a generous buffet breakfast served in the Green Room, reserved for performers, crew and staff of the Sydney Opera House. Perhaps you'll rub shoulders with a celebrity or two over coffee?