Hilary Kole is hardly a Bond Girl is any conventional sense. But the toast of Manhattan’s most prestigious concert venues (among them, Carnegie Hall, by way of performances with the New York Philharmonic) and cabaret rooms (the famed Rainbow Room, which she began playing at age 21) unquestionably has a fondness for James Bond films. Her preferences, though, run to the music that has been as vital to the evolution of the long running spy movie series as the villainous plot twists, global locales, and, yes, glamorous women.
“You have all kinds of people from all different periods that have kind of bonded through Bond,” said Kole, who will celebrate New Year’s Eve by performing “Casino Royale: The Music of James Bond” with the Lexington Philharmonic. “I feel like its music for everybody.”
Philharmonic conductor and music director Scott Terrell concurs, citing not just the vocal compositions that have served as theme songs to Bond movies for over 50 years but the instrumental scores, especially those composed for the Sean Connery-era films from the 1960s by John Barry, as key to the continued success of the series and to Bond’s overall charisma.
“Great film music really sells us the character,” Terrell said. “But the music becomes yet another character on the screen, even though it’s not a spoken character. I don’t think the success of James Bond is as good without the music – at all, just as ‘Star Wars’ isn’t as good without John Williams. I’m sorry, it just isn’t going to work.
“But what’s interesting, particularly with ‘Goldfinger’ (the vanguard 1964 Bond movie, much of which is set in Kentucky) is how the music is really evocative of this particular era of the Bond movie. That’s Shirley Bassey (the singer who performed the theme, as well as those from two other Bond movies in the ‘70s) at her best. It draws a very strong image of the picture.”
The “Casino Royale” program is striking because is represents a parade of hits by predominantly female vocalists whose styles and temperaments reflect the many eras in which the Bond movies were made. Aside from Bassey, those singers include Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, Sheena Easton, Rita Coolidge, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner and, as recently as 2012’s “Skyfall,” Adele.
“You can’t really compare the originals,” Kole said, “My goodness, there are so many singers that have recorded these songs. So I don’t try to do that. I try to just be true to the song. It’s always a fun thing for me to see how far I can push things, starting off with one tradition, going into rock ‘n’ roll and then the music of someone like Adele.”
Even though Kole plans on putting her own interpretative spin on the music, Terrell said the stylistic breadth of the songs, from the soft spoken pop of Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does it Better” (sung by Simon for 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”) to the more brazen rock and soul of the U2 penned title tune to “Goldeneye” (recorded for the film by Turner) calls for a vocalist with an equally dynamic range.
“You need somebody like Hilary to tackle the variety and range of this music,” he said. “It’s a heavy lift, which she does really well. Plus, she is a very engaging personality both on an off the stage.
For Kole, the appeal of the Bond movies stems back to her childhood, although she confessed her father, Broadway actor and singer Robert Kole, was the bigger fan.
“My dad was a James Bond addict. I remember my parents watching the films and then getting to see them on television myself when I was very young. When I started researching for this show, I took another look at a lot of the films and was thinking, ‘Wow, they let me watch this?’”
Terrell also considers himself part of the Bond films’ enduring, cross-generational audience.
“I think Bond still has the same allure,” he said. “That’s ultimately it. It hasn’t lost its interest for any generation.
“Hey, I’m not going to lie. Whenever the next James Bond movie comes out, I will likely be there within the first week.”
Casino Royale: The Music of James Bond featuring the Lexington Philharmonic and Hilary Kole will be performed 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. The concert is sold out.