Opera Scotland

Kiss Me, Kate 2018Opera North

Read more about the opera Kiss Me, Kate

It is widely accepted that Kiss Me, Kate is one of the greatest Broadway musicals, at least of the post-war era. However the contemporaneous works by Rodgers and Hammerstein - Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, as well as Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls, have rather overshadowed it in recent years. The later works of Cole Porter, as well as Irving Berlin, seem to have fallen into comparative neglect. In the case of Kiss Me, Kate, this is likely to be partly due to a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the source work, Shakespeare's early comedy The Taming of the Shrew. To some modern audiences, this play's apparently misogynistic attitude can cause problems to the extent that it can seem difficult to perform unless a director is prepared to give it a great deal of thought.

However, the addition of a clever framing plot - the dramas and quarrels within a theatrical troupe, centring on the two leading couples, is cleverly put together. And of course Kiss Me, Kate boasts some dozen or so of the best numbers ever to have featured in the musical theatre, even from the pen of the amazing Cole Porter.

It is rarely seen live, however. The successful opening run at the London Coliseum in 1951 was followed by a long national tour that played in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, while making stars of young performers such as Elizabeth Larner and the siblings Lionel and Joyce Blair. Down south, it was first performed by a British opera company when Sadler's Wells (now ENO) gave it a run in 1970, soon after their move to the Coliseum. The Royal Shakespeare Company revived it in 1987, directed by Adrian Noble. Meanwhile, the only professional staging in Scotland seems to have been the thoroughly enjoyable production by John Durnin at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in 2010, where the actors sang, danced and also played most of the instruments.

It is therefore good to see Opera North, having revived its successful 2015 staging by Jo Davies (now redirected by Ed Goggin), a co-production with Welsh National Opera. making a brief visit to Edinburgh following seasons in Leeds and London (naturally at the Coliseum).

A great advantage this present staging has over all previous ones is the availability since 2014 of a new critical edition of the score by David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking, restoring the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker. This allows it to be performed in rousing style by a large pit band with many authentic jazz elements. David Charles Abell is known in Edinburgh as a conductor - he led the memorable South African production of Porgy and Bess in 2009 - but he has now established himself as a leading researcher of Broadway shows in the line of John Mauceri, Tommy Krasker and the late John McGlinn.

The result here, idiomatically conducted by James Holmes, was a wonderfully authentic sounding piece - jazz one minute, Viennese operetta the next, with lots of inimitable Cole Porter touches. There were even a guitar and mandolin in the mix for that extra Italianate flavour, and a snatch of Lucia-style mad scene, complete with flute. Just one of the fascinating insights in Abell's programme note describes how one of those great songs, 'So in love', sung by Lilli near the start and reprised by Fred at the end, was given two completely different but appropriate orchestrations, with Walker working on the last act without knowledge of what Bennett had already done.

When opera companies venture into musical theatre land there have, in the past, been objections that the correct idiom can elude performers used to a different manner of singing. No danger of that here, with the operatic and music theatre talents indistinguishable. Stephanie Corley, Quirijn de Lang and the two gangsters were every bit as happy in the style as were the highly accomplished actor-singer-dancers. Zoë Rainey brought the house down with 'Always true to you' while Alan Burkitt's tap routine (apparently inserted for the first London run) was equally successful. The Gangsters' wonderfully ribald 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare' may be a gift to any performers but it still needs to be projected, as these two did with deadpan glee.

The joyous reaction of the audience after the opening chorus 'Another openin', another show' got the first evening off to a flying start which never wavered for a moment. OperaScotland attended the matinee too, and found a packed and enthusiastic house enjoying a wonderful performance.

Performance DatesKiss Me, Kate 2018

Map List

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

4 Jul, 19.15 5 Jul, 19.15 6 Jul, 19.15 7 Jul, 14.15 7 Jul, 19.15

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2023

Site by SiteBuddha