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Morsels of aural gorgeousness

We've chosen five favourite contemporary* opera arias that are a breathtaking blend of tradition and innovation. Rich, emotive melodies and cool harmonies that resonate with modern sensibilities. Close your eyes and get carried away.

*stretching 'contemporary' to mean composed/premiered in 'our' lifetime: after 1950.

Pictured below: Morgan Carter as Hannah After in ACOCO's Australian premiere of AS ONE by Laura Kaminsky, Kimberly Reed & Mark Campbell


(1955) The Trees on the Mountain

from Susannah

music & libretto by Carlisle Flloyd (USA)

Susannah is one of the most performed American operas of all time. Featuring Appalachian folk melodies mixed with Protestant hymns, as well as traditional classical music elements, the opera officially premiered at Florida State University in 1955 with a production at New York City Opera a year later.

Based on the biblical story Susannah and the Elders, the opera is set in an Evangelical community in rural Tennessee. Susannah is an 18-year-old girl who has inadvertently drew her church elders’ lust. The wives of the church leaders spread a rumour that she slept with one of the boys in the town. "The trees on the mountains are cold and bare” is Susannah's devastating but beautiful aria as a cry for a return to innocent, happier days. Performance by Zoe Drummond (ACOCO 2019, *2024*) and Ashley Beauchamp - recorded at Waterperry Festival 2023 (UK)



Our very own home

from Fellow Travelers, music by Gregory Spears (USA)

libretto by Greg Pierce (USA), based on Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel.

Premiering in 2016, Fellow Travelers is an achingly sad, tender love story of two men in what was deemed an illicit relationship in the 1950s. The opera is based on Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel, which explores the purge of gay government employees in the early Cold War period.

In this understated and poignant aria, Hawk sings of a life that cannot be for the likes of them. Performance by ACOCO artist Hadleigh Adams (inaugural Young Artist - Gertrude Johnson Fellow 2009, Guest Artist 2016, 2021, *2024*) - Recorded Minnesota Opera, June 2018


(2011) The Nightingale's Song

from The Love of the Nightingale

music by Richard Mills (AUS)

libretto by Timberlake Wertenbaker (UK)

Librettist Timberlake Wertenbaker and composer Richard Mills bring a dark beauty to the confronting tale of Procne and Philomene. The arching melodies and lush, romantic harmonies combine with words, mime and dramatic coups de theatre to confront the hardest questions. Where does violence come from? Why women? Performance by Emma Matthews, Sydney Opera House, Recorded Opera Australia 2011


(1983) I was standing in a garden

from A Quiet Place

music by Leonard Bernstein (USA)

libretto by Stephen Wadsworth (USA)

Composed as a sequel to Trouble in Tahiti, which Leonard Bernstein wrote on his honeymoon in 1951, A Quiet Place makes it into our 'contemporary' list by virtue of repurposing! In this evocative and intimate aria, the reality of life as a housewife in suburbia hasn’t lived up to Dinah’s expectations. Worse still, she suspects her husband of having an affair. In her analyst’s office, Dinah recounts a dream she had of an untended garden choked with weeds. In the dream, she heard a voice calling to her, describing another garden – a place of love and harmony. Performed by soprano Wallis Giunta Recorded Opera North 2018


(2016) A hundred thousand stars

from Out of Darkness

music by Jake Heggie (USA)

libretto by Gene Scheer (USA)

Gad Beck’s story illuminates the Nazi persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. In the many years since the war, Gad has tried his best to forget what happened, but he keeps the book of Manfred’s original poems close by. As an old man, he is visited by Manfred’s ghost one night. As Manfred implores Gad to remember and celebrate their love, the painful truth of their stories and fates emerges. Performed by baritone Michael Mayes Recorded San Francisco Conservatorium 2018



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