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Belladiva and Little Black Dress Productions present ‘Aria Moderna’ as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival
Venue: The Gallery, State Library of Queensland
Duration: 60 minutes

In Aria Moderna, opera goes electric.

Styled in blood-red gowns, the four sopranos of Belladiva channel opera’s heroines from the earliest decades of the art-form to the present.

Belladiva are Bethan Ellsmore, Alicia Cush, Laura Coutts and Michelle Bull. They’ve been exploring the boundaries of pop opera since 2008 and have a dedicated following. It was standing room only for this one night performance.

Superbly aided and abetted by their musical collaborators, the emotive and narrative core of each piece has been explored, challenged and re-presented for the contemporary audience.

The opening number Pur ti miro from Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea (1643) received a modern makeover: a lush house track by Maberley and Petein, verses sung in English by Bethan and the main duet theme in Italian became the chorus.

In Paradis/The Bell Song (Leo Delibes, 1883), Maberley and Petein create a sonic forest in prelude to the ringing of Lakme’s magic bell as she saves Vishnu from wild beasts.

Each collaboration brings a new and gorgeous electro-pop dimension to the arias.

Kathryn McKee’s track evokes the exotic as Laura channels the beauteous dancer La Charmeuse (Massenet, 1894); Nuxe places Madama Butterfly amongst cherry blossoms as she waits for the return of her lover in One Beautiful Day (Puccini, 1904); Stephanie Ganfield’s track breaks the heart as Dido (Alicia), abandoned by Aeneas, prepares to mount the funeral pyre (Purcell, 1688); and, Sammsonite lays tracks fit for Queens – Cleopatra in Il destino (Handel, 1722) and the Queen of Spades in Arcadia (Tchaikovsky, 1890).

Acoustic interludes are accompanied by recent Conservatorium graduate, Joel Woods, on guitar. Bethan and Laura in The Two Faces of Gretchen hauntingly explore Gretchen’s troubled infatuation for Faust (Schubert, 1814), and, in the standout closing number, El Fauno (Navarrete, 2006), Belladiva take us deep into Pan’s Labyrinth as a young girl tries to survive fascist Spain.

The concert was conducted in the round – not in the centre of the audience – but by creating stage spaces on three walls so we rotated to face them. This allowed for some more intimate settings than a large stage for some pieces.

Belladiva excite with their vocal harmonies, technical excellence and dramatic polished delivery accompanied by the rich sonic landscapes of their collaborators.

One night only is not enough.

Performance seen: 17 May
Review: Shirley Way

Belladiva: Bethan Ellsmore, Alicia Cush, Laura Coutts and Michelle Bull
Guest musicians: Joel Woods (guitar), Maberley and Petein, Kathryn McKee, Nuxe (Willem Bakker), Stephanie Ganfield, Sammsonite (Sam Grace)

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