The concert had a Shakespearean theme and combined classical music with songs from “Kiss me Kate” and “West Side Story”. Actors Claire Benedict and Antony Peter also gave us some wonderful spoken Shakespeare, beginning with a sceptical interpretation of sonnet 18, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ This was followed by the choir with the satirical ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’. The actors then played a scene from “Twelfth Night”, in which Viola convinces the self-pitying Orsino that women can love as much as men can. Then came a song of the period, ‘Love is a sickness’.
Antony Brannick and Jenny Sheldon played a piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fantasy overture. This contains some of Tchaikovsky’s loveliest melodies, and expresses moods ranging from love to fury, finally ending sadly but peacefully, suggesting the reconciliation of the lovers’ families once all is lost.
The choir then gave an atmospheric rendering of three of Shakespeare’s songs, set to music by Vaughan Williams. ‘Full fathom five’ is sung by the sprite Ariel to torment a shipwreck survivor. The eerie “The cloud capped towers” might refer to the illusion of the stage – perhaps also of the world? “Over hill over dale” suggests the energy of the teasing spirit Puck.
The second half began with Elgar’s joyful ‘The Dance’ – nothing to do with Shakespeare, but providing a lively mood. Then the actors spoke the prologue to Romeo and Juliet. The musical version of this, “West Side Story”, supplied the choir with two satirical items, ‘America’ and ‘Officer Krupke’. Then we had a passionate but restrained spoken scene from the play itself – the first meeting of the lovers. The choir picked up on the mood with two beautifully rendered songs from the musical: ‘One Heart’ and ‘Somewhere’.
The show ended with sonnet 138, about lovers who lie to as well as with each other. Criticism is followed by reconciliation.