Australia’s star opera couple, Peter Coleman-Wright and Cheryl Barker, are really looking forward to singing the leading roles in Cole Porter’s re-make of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in Brisbane this week. It is also a timely revival, given the 2016 global Shakespeare celebrations honouring the playwright’s 400th anniversary.
Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate creates a classic play within a play scenario. Set among a theatre troupe who are performing Shakespeare’s play, the director, Fred, (Coleman-Wright) and fiery leading lady and ex-wife, Lilli, (Barker) have a bitter-sweet relationship, impacting on the play they are presenting with underlying tensions and humour. Porter’s glorious music and classically popular songs are a refreshing twist on an old theme.
Cheryl says that she fell in love with Kiss Me, Kate when it was performed in her first year at high school. “It was the first live show I remember seeing and it was probably a turning point in convincing me that I wanted to be a singer” she said. Peter remembers that “My parents loved the film with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson and what Keel did with the role of Fred was marvellous. It has long been my ambition to sing this role, as the music is fantastic”.
Despite long and illustrious careers, singing many of the major operatic roles in the soprano and baritone repertoire, Peter and Cheryl have never performed Kiss Me, Kate, so they jumped at the opportunity when Artistic Director, Lindy Hume, asked them to sing these roles for Opera Queensland.
This semi-staged version will include costuming, props and minimal production with the Opera Queensland chorus and musical theatre students from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. All the dance numbers will be choreographed too, so we can expect a glittering and entertaining show. Both roles are huge, requiring learning dialogue as well as the music, which is demanding. “But we also get to spend time together doing what we love most”, says Peter.
Peter and Cheryl were childhood sweethearts in Geelong and have been married for over 30 years “We spend so much time apart, on different sides of the world” says Peter “that it’s terrific when someone asks us to work together, particularly if the roles are interesting and new. There is a different flavour to performing with someone you know so well – you can react to their body language, feel totally comfortable with them onstage and the result can be electric”.
Cheryl explains that “In any role, you must find traits of yourself within the character to create a truthful performance. If I am playing opposite Peter in sympathetic roles, then that is easy. But if you are in character, it is also not difficult to react to a contrary feeling, such as when Tosca famously kills Scarpia”. These are roles that Peter and Cheryl have sung together many times demonstrating their amazing dynamic together on stage.
Peter Coleman-Wright and Cheryl Barker in Opera Australia’s Tosca (2005)
And do they share any of the characteristics of either Fred/Petruchio or Lilli/Katherine?
Cheryl is emphatic. “I have always wanted to sing Lilli, who I identify with very strongly. She is a strong, modern woman apart from the ‘taming’. I think we need to find other ways to represent that nowadays”.
Laughingly, Peter jokes “And I am just like Petruchio and definitely agree with the need to tame the shrew!”.
Peter and Cheryl last performed together in Brisbane in the critically-acclaimed Eugene Onegin, so audiences are in for a real treat when this down-to-earth and clearly happily married couple present their characters in Kiss Me, Kate at the Concert Hall on Saturday week. It will be an interesting battle of wills on stage with the real-life husband and wife team taking on the headstrong personalities of Fred and Lilli. //Article by Suzannah Conway, 7 November 2016//
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
12 November, 2.00pm and 8.00pm in the Concert Hall, QPAC