Until 1991, The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera (and its Melbourne cousin Orchestra Victoria) was known as The Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra and The Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra respectively, established by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in the mid 1960s.
The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera's core strength is 69 players (compared with Sydney Symphony's 110). Each player is selected by audition - which may require 12 months to complete. More than 120 other musicians may join the group during a financial year; this is due in part to Occupational Health and Safety Act NSW 2000 requirements regarding noise levels associated with working in the Sydney Opera House Orchestra Pit.
The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera provides orchestral accompaniment to Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet and is one of the few opera orchestras in the world that operates in a repertory style of operation over a period, or Season, that can be some months in length. Other opera houses that operate this way are The Metropolitan Opera, New York. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London and La Scala, Milan. 'Repertory style' also infers that that over time, certain composers and operas become considered 'standard' to the working operation of the company. Composers Puccini, Verdi, Handel, Bizet and Wagner are standard parts of the repertory. The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera includes the Ballet repertory pieces of Tchaikovsky Minkus and Prokofiev. Typically, opera takes place during January-March and June-October. Ballet fills the rest of the year.
In a typical year, the orchestra gives over 255 performances - plus rehearsals - featuring an average 12 operas. Its repertoire extends to Monteverdi, Alban Berg and Sondheim, and four ballet programs at 21 performances each. The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera also appears in gala concerts and special events such as Mazda Opera in the Domain and the New Year's Eve Gala Concert in the Concert Hall of the Opera house. In 2012 The Australian Opera and Ballet Opera appeared in Opera Australia's event presentation of HANDA Opera on Sydney Harbour in 18 performances of Traviata, using a purpose-built floating stage and orchestra pit, moored in Sydney's Farm Cove opposite the Sydney Opera House, sponsored in part by the International Foundation for Arts and Culture.