Opera Or Operetta? It’s A Close Call But “The Kiss” Delights- Whichever It Is

Corrine Winters and Garrett Sorenson in Smetana's "The Kiss" at Opera Theatre St. Louis. Photo: Ken Howard

Corrine Winters and Garrett Sorenson in Smetana’s “The Kiss” at Opera Theatre St. Louis. Photo: Ken Howard

With lilting melodies, something close to marching songs and comic numbers, Bedrich Smetana’s “The Kiss” sounds more like operetta than opera (actually it’s billed as a folk opera) but a winning cast, absurd story and that great music add up to a fun evening at Opera Theatre St. Louis. When Lukas wished to marry Vendulka years ago, his parents thought he should marry closer to his “station.” So, when the show opens, we see the burial of that wife, find out his parents have also passed and the chance encounter with Vendulka leads to a rekindling of their romance.

Vendulka, however, refuses to give Lukas a kiss- insisting that they wait until they can be married out of respect for his deceased wife. Paloucky, her father thinks it’s a bad idea altogether since he feels they’re both stubborn and will constantly fight. Sure enough, an argument ensues over the little kiss and they part ways. Lukas goes on a tear with the local girls of questionable repute but doesn’t do too well since he is still convinced that Vendulka is the only girl for him. To cap off this absurd plot, they finally resolve their differences and, when Vendulka asks for kiss, Lukas denies her. It’s his little joke, however and a long, thrown to the floor, passionate kiss finally unites the two forever.

Yes, it’s silly- but no sillier than Gilbert & Sullivan plots or so many other operas. What makes it work so well is the wonderful Smetana music. From overture to curtain call, the delightful music lovingly fills the OTSL stage and keeps the audience enthralled. Anthony Barrese conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with a steady hand, keeping the music as light and airy as the story itself. Director Michael Gieleta and choreographer Sean Curran follow suit by keeping the story appropriately melodramatic and full of comic turns.

kiss logoSoprano Corinne Winters returns once again to the Opera Theatre stage to charm and delight us. Her almost tomboyish enthusiasm is infectious and wins her character over immediately. Garrett Sorenson and his wonderful tenor voice bring a truly comic performance to Lukas. Matthew Burns delights as Paloucky even though he’s hampered by a wheel chair, a bum leg when he stands and two annoying nuns for his character. But he makes the most of his comic moments- particularly with his wonderful “I told you so” attitude that keeps him traveling throughout the audience taunting the couple after they split up.

Elizabeth Batton is also a treasure as Vendulka’s aunt who happens to be a member of a group of smugglers as well. Emily Duncan Brown as Vendulka’s servant and Matthew Worth  as Lukas’ brother-in-law also share in the fun with spirited portrayals as does Charles Z. Owen as the leader of the smuggler’s band.

It won’t send chills up your spine like “Champion” and it doesn’t measure up to the brilliance of “The Pirates Of Penzance,” but “The Kiss” is a delightful way to spend a night at the opera. Sit back and relax and let it sweep over you with sheer joy. “The Kiss” plays in repertory with three other operas and has its final performance on June 28th.

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