On Friday 16 March 2018 several members of opusSOH were lucky enough to attend a ‘test hang’ of the newly-restored ‘Curtain of the Sun’ tapestry in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Sydney artist John Coburn in 1969 as the proscenium curtain for the Opera Theatre, the huge 8 x 14-metre tapestry – with its counterpart ‘Curtain of the Moon’ used in the Drama Theatre – was woven in Australian wool at the Pinton Freres workshops near Aubusson, France over the next three years. The tapestries were commissioned from Coburn by Peter Hall and their restoration and planned public display at SOH pays tribute to the significance of the post-Utzon legacy.
Despite their importance the tapestries have had a chequered history. Due to concerns about their condition – and perception by some theatre producers that they conflicted visually and physically with the staging requirements of performances – they were removed and stored during the 1980s. In the mid 1990s they were repaired at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and, more recently, have been fully conserved and prepared for hanging by International Conservation Services, Sydney.
The Opera House plans to publicly display the tapestries on a temporary basis in the future, but as recommended in the 2017 Conservation Management Plan (Alan Croker, p 179) the curtains should, ideally, be ‘re-hung in their original locations’. Let’s hope these stunning examples of the work of one of Australia’s best-known artists of the 1960s and 70s for the country’s best-known building can be eventually returned to the theatre interiors that Hall and his team so carefully created.