Shakespeare to Song

Playbill has a compilation on their website today of musicals that were based on the works of The Bard in honor of his birthday. But the pen of William Shakespeare has given rise to a whole musical revolution of performing arts inspired by his timeless tales. Musicals! Operas! Ballet! It goes on and on and on and on…I just had myself a little Journey moment there.

I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI (Italian opera based on Romeo and Juliet, Vincenzo Bellini) Noteworthy in that there are only five main characters and that the Romeo role is played by a mezzo soprano in drag. Popular mezzo and soprano duo Elina Garanca and Anna Netrebko sang the lead roles with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 2008.

WEST SIDE STORY (American musical based on Romeo and Juliet, Leonard Bernstein) Considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all time, reset to New York gang neighborhoods in the 1950s-60s. Lead roles originated by Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence on Broadway, but the beauty of the music in this show has caused it to be performed for opera houses as well. In fact, I watched a fascinating documentary called “The Making of West Side Story,” which chronicles a recording session of the show by opera singers (Jose Carreras and Kiri te Kanawa) alongside Bernstein himself conducting the orchestra.

KISS ME KATE (American musical based on The Taming of the Shrew, Cole Porter) Probably the most popular Cole Porter show along with Anything Goes, this show-within-a-show follows the romantic entanglements of the four stars (and some gangsters?!) performing in the aforementioned Shakespearean comedy. Famous numbers include “Always True to You,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Too Darn Hot,” “So in Love,” “I Hate Men,” and “Another Op’ning Another Show.”

OTELLO (Italian opera based on Othello, Giuseppe Verdi) The second-to-last opera written by Verdi. Notorious for producing three vocally and dramatically demanding roles, even by Verdi’s standards. Predictably, Othello is a tenor, Desdemona is a soprano, and Iago is a baritone. Verdi was hesitant to write this opera following the success of Aida and had gone into a semi-retirement.

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