Friday, 22 June 2018

Brilliant ensemble: Cole Porter's Kiss me Kate from Opera North

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate; Quirijn de Lang, Stephanie Corley, Zoë Rainey, Alan Burkitt, John Savournin, Joseph Shovelton; dir: Jo Davies/Edward Goggin, cond: James Holmes; Opera North at the London Coliseum Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 June 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A strong ensemble performance in this uplifting revival of Jo Davies' 2015 production

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Quirijn de Lang, Stephanie Corley - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Quirijn de Lang, Stephanie Corley - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Not every musical is suitable for an opera company to produce, but Cole Porter's 1948 musical Kiss me Kate (with book by Bella and Samuel Spewack)  seems tailor made. The re-working of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew combines the play with back-stage fighting by the cast, with the result that Porter's score alternates between standard musical numbers and something approaching operetta, in fact the original two principals were drawn from the operatic world. The original orchestrations were done by that great Broadway musician Robert Russell Bennett (in collaboration with Don Walker), and one of the advantages of an opera company revival is the chance to hear the original orchestrations in their full orchestral splendour.

Opera North has revived Jo Davies' 2015 production of Cole Porter's Kiss me Kate and is touring it. Having opened in Leeds and travelled to Ravenna, Italy, the show opened at the London Coliseum on 20 June 2018 (and is there until 30 June 2018). The production was revived by Edward Goggin and conducted by James Holmes with a cast which spanned both opera and musical theatre, including Quirijn de Lang as Fred/Petruchio, Stephanie Corley as Lilli/Kate, Zoë Rainey as Lois/Bianca and Alan Burkitt as Bill/Lucentio, plus Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as the Shakespeare-loving gangsters. The cast was completed by the inestimable Opera North Chorus (which provided three of the smaller roles), plus a group of dancers, whilst James Holmes conducted the Opera North orchestra in the pit.

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Zoe Rainey, Alan Burkitt - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Zoe Rainey, Alan Burkitt - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Davies' inventive production, based around mobile flats (designs by Colin Richmond), moved easily and fluidly from the backstage scenes to on-stage presentation of the play. The whole production was very crisp and tight, with superb participation from the Opera North chorus which moved alongside the dancers in an admirable manner with none of the separation between singing chorus and dancers which can happen.

I have to confess that I have always found the cod Shakespeare bits of the musical have their longeurs, but Davies and Goggins brought a lively imagination to the bad Shakespeare staging and of course, Bella and Samuel Spewack's book makes the backstage fighting between Fred and Lilli spill over into the scenes between Petruchio and Kate, giving a superb sense of uncertainty as to whether we were experiencing Kate in the play or Lilli in real life, something which gave the climactic scene at the end of Act One real zest in this performance.

The operatic and musical theatre performers fitted admirably together, and you never really thought about the background of one or the other. Quirijn de Lang and Stephanie Corley (both from an operatic background) made a wonderfully sparring Fred and Lilli, combining anger with an underlying sense of hurt and feeling. Both brought a lovely feeling of long line to 'So in love', whilst Corley really spat out 'I hate met' and de Lang clearly relished all the suggestiveness moments in 'Where is the live that late I led?'.

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Quirijn de Lang & ensemble - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Quirijn de Lang & ensemble - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
The secondary couple Zoe Rainey and Alan Burkitt (both from a musical theatre background) were equally strong, in their different ways. Zoe Rainey was a bundle of energy, simply brilliant in 'Always true to you in my fashion' in a performance which was visually entertaining yet always brought out Cole Porter's words. She and Alan Burkitt's Bill sparred, albeit less viciously than the lead couple, duetting in 'Why can't you behave' and Burkitt showed some superb tap skills in his solo number.

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Joseph Shovelton, John Savournin - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Joseph Shovelton, John Savournin - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
The ensembles were led by Aiesha Pease and Stephane Anelli as Hattie and Paul, both contributing vivid performances and some slick dancing, whilst Jack Wilcox and Piers Bate provided strong support as Hortensio and Gremio. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin were the two gunmen, hilariously out of their depth in the play, but delivering a finely pointed account of 'Brush up your Shakespeare' with a neat sense of the text and all the trappings of a polished double act.

Will Tuckett's choreography was simply brilliant, (revival choreographer David James Hulston) spilling over into the whole show and making the dance numbers a vivid theatrical experience which filled the whole stage. There were plenty of standard Broadway show tropes, but also much else which was inventive and vivid.

As I have said, the chorus was on superb form and there was a seamless blend between music, movement and dance so that we saw a tight whole rather than a series of component parts. They also seemed to be having terrific fun.

The soudn design from Autograph Sound was excellent, providing a very natural sounding balance without a sense of over-amplified voices, and filling the Coliseum (no mean feat) whilst ensuring we could hear all the words.

In the pit were heard a band far bigger than we would have got on Broadway originally with 30 strings, as well as the extra players used by Russell Bennett, notably five saxophone players (doubling on woodind), five brass players and a large percussion section. Conductor James Holmes ensured that the opulence did not lead to the sort of over-blown operatic performance which can be fatal for a musical and we were able to enjoy orchestrations which combined a lush sense of colour and timbre with vitality and impulse.

 Having heard the Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations for Lerne and Loewe's My Fair Lady at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris [see my review] not to mention John Wilson's performances of musicals at the BBC Proms [see my review of Rogers and Hamerstein's Okalhoma], I feel that we should be making more of an effort to perform these shows in the the theatre with the original orchestrations.

Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate - Opera North (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Director Jo Davies
Revival Director Edward Goggin
Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond
Choreographer Will Tuckett
Associate Choreographer David Hulston
Lighting Designer Ben Cracknall

Fred Graham / Petruchio: Quirijn de Lang
Lilli Vanessi / Katharine: Stephanie Corley
Lois Lane / Bianca: Zoë Rainey
Bill Calhoun / Lucentio: Alan Burkitt
Hortensio: Jack Wilcox
Gremio: Piers Bate
Hattie: Aiesha Pease
Paul: Stephane Anelli
Gunman: Joseph Shovelton
Gunman: John Savournin
Harry Trevor / Baptista: James Hayes
Harrison Howell: Malcolm Ridley
Nathaniel: Adam Tench
Gregory: Tatenda Madamombe
Phillip: Deangelo Jones
Ralph (Stage Manager): Claire Pascoe
Stage Doorman: Jeremy Peaker
Cab Driver: Ivan Sharpe
Dancers: Michelle Andrews, Rachael Crocker, Freya Field, Kate Ivory Jordan, Harrison Clark, Jordan Livesey, Ben Oliver, Ross Russell, Stephanie Elstob

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • ‘A well-regulated church music’ - John Eliot Gardiner at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Humanity & warmth - Solomon's Knot at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Handel Sonatas for violin and basso continuo (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Engaging rarity: Verdi's Un giorno di regno from Heidenheim (★★★★) - CD review
  • Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia at The Grange Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Seriously unusual: Stephen Barlow introduces Buxton Festival's production of Verdi's Alzira - interview
  • Second View: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park conducted by George Jackson (★★★★) - opera review
  • Sei solo: Bach's partitas and sonatas for violin alone from Thomas Bowles (★★★½) - CD review
  • Io la Musica son: Francesca Aspromonte in Prologue  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Aldeburgh Festival: Britten and Bernstein side by side in Suffolk (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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