Watch out Melbourne: with a spectacular 2024 calendar of shows and exhibitions, Sydney is gunning for the Cultural Capital of Australia title.
Sydney is famed for its sun-kissed beaches, dazzling harbour and activities in the great outdoors, but when it comes to arts and culture, the harbour city has played second fiddle to Melbourne. That is, until now. Post-pandemic, the NSW capital has rolled out a dazzling display of creativity with world-class exhibitions, big-ticket entertainment and a thriving festival scene.
In 2023, blockbuster events such as Sydney WorldPride and the first SXSW festival held outside the US put Sydney's name in lights as the country's leading event host, while the coffin of Ramses the Great wowed crowds at the Australian Museum's Ramses and the Gold of the Pharaohs, the nation's biggest cultural exhibition in more than a decade (and on until May 19). While 2023 was epic, 2024 in Sydney promises even bigger thrills for arts and culture lovers, with a sensational line-up of art, music, theatre and dance. Here are some highlights to put on your radar.
Biennale of Sydney 2024
Australia's biggest contemporary art event will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a three-month Sydney-wide feast of exhibitions and events featuring 88 artists and collectives from 47 countries. Biennale of Sydney 2024 (March 9 to June 10) is filled with firsts: its flagship venue, the restored White Bay Power Station, will open its doors to the public for the first time in 100 years with the massive opening Lights On concert, featuring the Australian debut of Belgian dance-pop outfit Charlotte Adigery and Bolis Pupul. The theme for the 24th Biennale, Ten Thousand Suns, will underpin exhibitions across an additional five landmark locations including Art Gallery of NSW, MCA and - for the first time - Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney. And the best part? The exhibitions are all free. biennaleofsydney.art
Great Southern Nights
Live music lovers will be over the moon at the prospect of 17 gig-packed nights as the Great Southern Nights festival (March 8-24) comes to town. Top-notch acts such as the Primitives, King Stingray, Fanny Lumsden and Gold Fang will be performing at beloved live-music venues including Enmore Theatre, the Hollywood Hotel and Oxford Art Factory - you won't want to miss these beats. greatsouthernnights.com.au
Dear Evan Hansen's Aussie debut
The Australian premiere of Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen (Roslyn Packer Theatre; October 12 to November 17) headlines Sydney Theatre Company's packed program of 15 productions. The moving six-times Tony Award-winning musical about a socially awkward high school student will be the first fresh interpretation since its Broadway debut in 2016. Also unmissable, Kip Williams' new one-woman adaptation of Dracula for the STC (Roslyn Packer Theatre; July 2 to August 4) stars award-winning Zahra Newman in every role.
A World Undone at MCA
The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) will unveil a major new exhibition from Australian multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan, showing works created over his entire two-decade career. Nicholas Mangan: A World Undone (April 5 to June 30), charts the evolution of the artist's visual language, culminating with his ambitious latest project Core-Coralations, inspired by the plight of the Great Barrier Reef. mca.com.au
A ballet bonanza
Sydney will stage more ballet than any other Australian city in 2024. The Australian Ballet's (TAB) heavily Sydney-centric 2024 program offers the NSW capital five different programs (Melbourne gets three and Adelaide just one). Exclusive to the harbour city, Johan Inger's red-hot contemporary retelling of Bizet's Carmen (Sydney Opera House; April 10-27) sizzles with passion and athleticism, and the company's acclaimed new resident choreographer Stephanie Lake debuts Circle Electric (Sydney Opera House; May 3-18), her first full-length commission for TAB, in a double bill with Harald Lander's beloved 1948 one-act classic Etudes. australianballet.com.au
A Case for the Existence of God
The eagerly awaited Australian premiere of Samuel D. Hunter's A Case for the Existence of God (Seymour Centre; April 11 to May 4) brings the award-winning play from New York to Sydney, where Outhouse Theatre Co will stage the heart-wrenching and compassionate story of male friendship, named Best Play in 2022 by the New York Drama Critic's Circle. seymourcentre.com
Horizon by Bangarra Dance
Bangarra Dance Theatre's new first-time cross-cultural (Maori/Aboriginal) collab Horizon (Sydney Opera House; June 11 to July 13) will premiere in Sydney before touring other capitals. bangarra.com.au
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SSO's scaled-up season
Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) is dialling up the drama with a season of large-scale musical productions, featuring more than 50 concerts. One thrilling prospect is Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (Sydney Opera House; March 15-16) an epic production with 140 musicians and a chorus of 200 - so many performers the stage required an extension - conducted by Simone Young. Only the second performance in Australia since it was written more than 100 years ago, this is the work's Sydney debut. Richard Wagner's monumental Die Walkure (Sydney Opera House; November 15 and 17), the second opera of his Ring Cycle, will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a world-class international cast. Another huge production, it features opera's most famous and stirring piece of music, The Ride of the Valkyries. sydneysymphony.com
The Lehman Trilogy
The National Theatre and Neal Street Productions' five-time Tony Award-winning The Lehman Trilogy makes its Australian debut in Sydney (February 21 to March 24) at Theatre Royal, following sold-out runs in London's West End and on Broadway. Directed by Sam Mendes, the smash hit tells the gripping story of the world's greatest financial crisis. theatreroyalsydney.com
Opera Australia has announced a dazzling 2024, with its Sydney program the biggest for any city. The line-up of 14 productions is driven by two accomplished women: guest creative director Lindy Hume and incoming creative director Jo Davies. From Tosca to La Traviata and the wow-factor of West Side Story on the harbour, you can't go wrong with any of this line-up of heavy hitters, but the Sydney-exclusive Hamlet (Sydney Opera House; July 20 to August 9), making its Australian debut and directed by Neil Armfield, is especially exciting. opera.org.au