Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Director: Jo Davies
Conductor: David Charles Abell
Reviewer: Tom Tollett
Jo Davies’ splendid new production of Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter’s famous take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, is a triumph from beginning to end. Not only can it claim first-rate vocals, acting and dancing from principals and chorus alike, but Davies’ careful control of atmosphere and setting admirably portrays the energy and chaos of the on and off-stage lives of a theatre company on tour. Sets, props and lighting are deftly introduced, erected, and removed as musical numbers proceed. Is this a rehearsal, performance, preview or the show itself? Whichever, the pace never wanes.
Dutch-born baritone Quirijn De Lang, as Fred Graham/Petruchio, bears a skilful rakishness as a suitor for the hand of Jeni Bern’s Lilli Vanessi/Kate. His alternating strident and tender wooing is matched musically by a forthright, yet romantic singing style. There is the skittish ‘I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily In Padua’, the boastful ‘Where Is The Life That Late I Led?’ and the lovingly sensitive ‘Were Thine That Special Face’. On-stage, he does it for a wager; off-stage, he does it for love. For her part, the feisty Miss Bern delivers a suitably aggressive ‘I Hate Men’ and remains spiritedly defiant for a very long time. Yet, her ‘So In Love’, full of heartfelt yearning, perhaps reveals an underlying longing for the man she once loved and will love once more. Together, they sing ‘Wunderbar’ with an air of affectionate reminiscence.
Elsewhere, Tiffany Graves’ Lois Lane/Bianca, the eager, younger sister, a maid most-easily won, follows a more conventional courtship with Ashley Day’s Bill Calhoun/Lucentia. ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’, delivered as a suitably tongue-in-cheek paean to her fidelity and devotion for him, encapsulates nicely her attitude to their union. His Bianca is rough and ready, a take-it-or-leave-it love song. Yet, although they lack a balcony scene, afforded to the principals, by which to express themselves, one senses theirs is a match to last.
Cole Porter’s 1948 musical is a constant wonder, his lyrics witty and melodies memorable. The well-etched characterisations and adroit stagecraft pervade the entire enterprise, even down to an appealingly doleful donkey and Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin’s loveable gun-toting Italianate hoodlums. These last-mentioned remain a comically sinister presence throughout, providing amusing distractions with the audience, conductor and those on stage. The Orchestra of Opera North plays idiomatically, alert to conductor David Charles Abell’s flexibly apposite reading.
Both American and European houses, from Chicago’s Lyric Opera to the Komische Oper in Berlin, routinely stage works by Kern, the Gershwins, Sondheim, Weill and Rodgers and Hammerstein as integral parts to their seasons. But above all, Opera North is our very own to cherish and treasure and remains among the very best in its undertakings. Kiss Me Kate is an absolute, must see this season.
Runs until 31 October 2015