Review: ARETHA: A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul is a fitting tribute to an unforgettable icon

  • Naomi Gall
  • June 20, 2023
  • Comments Off on Review: ARETHA: A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul is a fitting tribute to an unforgettable icon

Six singers perform on a stage with a band behind them.

Known around the world as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin is one of the most iconic singers of all time. During her impressive career, she won 18 Grammy awards and sold over 75 million records. Her incredible life and the songs defining her career form the heart of the stage production, ARETHA: A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul at the Sydney Opera House.

Narrated and directed by Jada Alberts, the production presents itself like a sermon to the singer’s life, starting with her childhood and gospel roots, walking us through her early years and culminating with the songs we all know and love today.

Emma Donovan. Photo: Maria Boyadgis

Showcasing 32 timeless hits, the production features an exceptional line-up of Australian vocalists, including Emma Donovan, Montaigne, Thandi Phoenix, Thndo and Ursula Yovich. Interwoven amongst the music is the spoken narrative, which gives context and depth to the lyrics.

A trailblazer, Franklin’s life was full of ups and downs but through it all was the music – that iconic sound that only she could create. With hits such as “Respect”, “Think” and “Chain of Fools”, ARETHA pays homage to everything the singer achieved in her lifetime and continues to inspire to this day.

Accompanied by a nine-piece band, and with musical direction by Joe Accaria, my one criticism would be the balance of sound between the band and the vocalists. While the power and talent of the singers is unparalleled, there were moments where parts became drowned-out by the music. In particular, when Alberts attempted to speak the narration, they appeared to be yelling to be heard over the band. The lyrics should always take centre stage and with these becoming overwhelmed in parts, it was a bit hit and miss.

(L – R) Thandi Phoenix, Thndo, Montaigne and Ursula Yovich. Photo: Maria Boyadgis

Having said that, there is no denying the unbelievable skill and talent of the performers whose harmonies and range were absolute perfection.

By the time “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” blasted from the stage the audience was on their feet. The energy emanating from the performers was electric, with their flawless vocals so powerful it threatened to raise the roof of the Concert Hall.

Watching the vocalists interact on stage, seeing the bond that music can create – this is the lasting gift that Aretha Franklin has left the world with. Her music continues to unite people and bring such inescapable joy. A fitting tribute to the Queen of Soul.




17 and 18 June – Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
20 June – Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre – more information 
2 July – Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne – more information

Reviewer attended on 17 June 2023.

Photos: Maria Boyadgis