The Annapolis Chorale opened its 34th season with "An Evening with Cole Porter," filled with marvelous classic melodies and sassy tunes fused to incomparable lyrics that remain among Broadway's wittiest.
Under J. Ernest Green's sensitive direction, last weekend's program was filled with stylish singing complete with flawless diction and masterful musicianship to pay tribute to Porter.
The concert featured the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, guest artists who provided a light jazz approach and other soloists drawn from the chorus who offered more classical renditions to cover the wide range of versatility that Porter's music requires.
My lifelong Porter addiction precedes a 1955 New York honeymoon trip, where my husband, Bud, and I enjoyed Can Can, starring French chanteuse Lilo and Gwen Verdon in her first major Broadway role. Porter displayed as much ease with French lyrics as with English. The show's score included "I Love Paris," "C'est Magnifique," "It's All Right with Me" and "Allez-vous-en," plus the title tune.
For me, Porter's melodies and sophistication not only stand the test of time but have seldom been equaled. Anyone who appreciates innovative use of the English language would respect Porter's self-deprecating assessment of his song lyrics - "You're the top, you're the Colosseum, you're the top, you're the Louvre museum, you're a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, you're Mickey Mouse" - as "the `tinpantithesis' of poetry."
The nearly 200-member Annapolis Chorale opened the program with an uptempo medley of "From This Moment On," "Another Opening, Another Show," and "Just One of Those Things" to set the bar high. Green remarked on the assemblage of talent: "We have an embarrassment of riches, but I'm not too embarrassed."
Jazz pianist Erik Apland created magic on the keys, backed up by John Jensen's singing trombone and bassist Jay Miles' insistent rhythms. Whether offering infectious instrumental sets or backing up jazz vocalist Felicia Carter, Apland's eponymous trio created Porter renditions that would have been at home in any serious jazz club.
Carter made her Annapolis Chorale debut with "Anything Goes." She gracefully moved back and forth to the microphone, nearly dancing, and delivered with her own cool insouciance great lyrics such as: "Good authors too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose," which, for 1934, seems astonishingly ahead of its time, and prescient in describing today's pop music.
In a post-concert conversation, Green said that with his invited guest artists he "wanted to create a nightclub atmosphere" that extended to guest baritone Jason Buckwalter, who has a light voice that sometimes approached crooner status, and an easy grace, with a bonus of comedic skills.
Buckwalter, a Peabody Conservatory graduate student, did a range of tunes, including a lively and amusing "Be a Clown" and a seductive "I Get a Kick Out of You."
Offering a more classical approach were soprano Laurie Hays and baritone Christopher Rhodovi, along with chorale member Jill Jackson Woodward, making her debut. These soloists delivered a medley from Kiss Me, Kate that included a Hays-Rhodovi schmaltzy duet of "Wunderbar" followed by Rhodovi's sophisticated lament, "Where is the Life that Late I Led?" followed by Hays' feisty "I Hate Men."
Later, Hays and Rhodovi joined Woodward and Buckwalter in a romantic "So in Love" from the same show.
Other highlights of the evening included a deliciously naughty "Let's Do It," sung by Hays and Woodward, who joined a quartet of chorale women to become expert backup singers for Carter in "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."
A few numbers fell short of my expectations, most notably "Begin the Beguine," which lacked drama and substance because the arrangement was too heavily female-weighted.
I could never quarrel with the last number by the full chorus, "Every Time We Say Goodbye," which was sung as it was meant to be sung.
Cole Porter himself had the last word with his recorded voice singing "You're the Top," which has to have among the cleverest lyrics of all time, starting with, "At words poetic, I'm so pathetic."
The evening added up to the kind of treatment this composer from Broadway's golden age deserves, and that he didn't always receive in the 2004 film bio De-Lovely.
Next on the Annapolis Chorale schedule is "La Traviata in Concert" on Nov. 3 and 4. To order individual tickets, or tickets for the remainder of the season, call the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts' box office at 410-280-5640 or visit www.mdhallarts.org.