KISS ME, KATE
Fred Graham, director and leading man in Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” is rehearsing with his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi and his new flame Ann. Lilli gets a call from Harrison, her rich and powerful but aging fiancé. Lilli and Fred become sentimental, reminiscing about old times on the first anniversary of their divorce. But the “wonderful” atmosphere is disturbed by two gangsters who demand payment of an IOU signed in Fred’s name by a scatterbrained Bill. Lilli accidentally receives the flowers Fred intended for Ann. The show begins. Bianca (alias Ann) is wooed by three suitors, who only really get a chance when her older sister Katharina (alias Lilli) has been married off. Petruchio (alias Fred) thinks he can overcome her stubbornness. Unfortunately Katharina (actually Lilli) has meanwhile read the card that came with the flowers. Furious, she declares her intention to leave the theater at once, but the two gangsters suddenly reappear and Fred ropes her in: only if the show goes on, he says, and which is exactly what Lilli is trying to avoid, can he pay off the IOU. Threatened with a pistol, Lilli is forced to continue. While the show proceeds on stage, Harrison shows up with an ambulance for Lilli. Fred tries to explain to him that it’s all a mistake, just a case of the jitters and moodiness. He makes fun of Lilli and Harrison’s shared future while Bill mixes stage and reality in his song to Bianca. The problem with the forged IOU soon sorts itself out. Lilli is free again, but she doesn’t want to leave. She comes back surprisingly – as Katharina – and makes an ironically submissive declaration to Petruchio alias Fred. And now – finally! – they kiss.
December 30, 1948 must have been a particularly satisfying day for Cole Porter. Though financially independent and not averse to “la dolce vita,” the then 57-year-old must have hardly been happy about his lack of success on Broadway after his smash hits of the 1920s and 1930s. Young Broadway producer Arnold Saint Subber, at any rate, considered Cole Porter a has-been when he began work on his musical, based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” in late 1947. Bella Spewack, born in 1899 and a veteran dialogue author, was not Saint Subber’s first choice either. It was she who involved Cole Porter in the first place and insisted, despite the resistance of Saint Subber and his co-producer and stage designer Lemuel Ayers, that her former associate Porter be asked to write the music.
The success of “Kate” at its world premiere in late 1948 was not least of all thanks to the considerable artistic progress the composer and song writer had made with this work. Whereas his earlier musicals such as “Anything Goes” from 1935 were typical musical comedies with their revue and show elements, “Kiss Me, Kate” was more akin to a musical drama. These two terms have less to do with the comedy or drama of their plots than with the fact that in a musical drama the plot and musical numbers are much more closely intertwined. We could actually argue that “Kiss Me, Kate” combines the two basic types of American musicals, with comedic elements of a Shakespeare plot and drama behind the scenes in the music.
The Broadway premiere of “Kiss Me, Kate” was followed by a possibly record-breaking string of 1,077 performances. Its London premiere took place in 1951, a film adaptation (in 3-D) came out in 1953. The German-language version premiered in 1955 in Frankfurt am Main, and one year later was the first work of this genre to be performed at the Vienna Volksoper. The work premiered at the Dresden State Operetta in 1995-96, produced by Rainer Wenke (choreography by Eva Reinthaller).
Jürgen Hartmann (Translation: David Burnett)
shorttime changes in the evening’s cast possible due to illness and force majeure