Opera to return to Sydney after virus hiatus: 'People will be coming back with a sense of hope'

'The Merry Widow' will kick off Australia's opera season for 2021 after last season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic

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The finishing touches were being put on a glitzy show at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday, as the venue prepared to host an opera crowd for the first time since March.

The Merry Widow will open on Tuesday, January 5, to masked audiences at up to 75 per cent capacity, in a sign of hope for a performing arts industry crippled by the pandemic, artistic director Lyndon Terracini told AFP.

"Walking back into the theatre was a very emotional time for everyone involved," he said.

"I think throughout this year, other opera houses will be opening very soon and people will be coming back to the theatre with a sense of hope."

Thanks to Australia's success in suppressing the virus, crowds inside venues – including the Sydney Opera House – have been permitted in the country's most populous city for months.

But even as the performers readied for their opening night, an outbreak in the city forced officials to tighten restrictions – including a new mandate on mask-wearing on public transport and in many indoor settings from midnight Saturday.

The outbreak of over 180 cases first emerged in December in Sydney's north-east, but has since sparked other clusters, including in Melbourne.

Areas of Sydney remain under lockdown and officials have suggested further restrictions may be needed to curb the spread – which could include a change to audiences at indoor performances.

Julie Lea Goodwin, who leads the show along with Alexander Lewis, said she was thrilled to be back performing but after a nine-month hiatus the uncertainty of the pandemic still loomed.

"I have no idea what's ahead," Goodwin said.

"I think that Australia is doing an unbelievable job... but it's just going to be a process for the next year, I'd say, or longer."

Australia has recorded more than 28,400 cases of the virus and 909 deaths linked to Covid-19, in a population of about 25 million.