The Welsh National Opera's production of Cole Porter's absolutely fabulous Kiss Me Kate, goes off like a rocket'.
Clearly a well-trained opera company is rich in vocal power and here is a company that knows how to use that power to bring out the beauty and wit of Cole Porter's score.
Kiss Me Kate is a play within a play. The well-known amorous collisions between Petruchio and Katherine, Shakespeare's legendary termagant, are part of literary history. Here, Porter cleverly juxtaposes the Shakespearean plot with a real life amatory crisis between divorced Broadway stars Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) and his co-star Lilli Vanessi (Clare Wild) who, as they rage at each other on stage and off, have no idea that they are still wildly in love with each other (although it is quite clear to us from the word go).
The opening number was a joy. Director Jo Davies sets the scene backstage in the last period of rehearsals before the show opens: "Two weeks will it ever be right, then out of the hat comes that big first night.." Actors rush around looking for gossip, support or the latest developments, the stage manager, struggles to keep order as costume racks and directors try to sort out the confusion, and then the WNO chorus lift the whole thing with a blast of music that shows us what they can do when they have superb music to inspire them.
Mr Quirijn de Lang looking amazingly youthful for a man who has gone through a showbiz divorce and a career that has taken him through America and into Europe, sings like a dream. His articulation is first class and what Cole Porter wrote in lyrics which are showstoppers, are made wonderfully clear and so you listen and you applaud and that applause is well-deserved.
Petruchio usually arrives on stage like a thunderbolt in a D'Artagnan hat loaded with feathers and richly-coloured costume. This time he arrives in an all-black outfit and an oily black and curly wig. The visual effect is dismaying. This is not Petruchio, but one of the murderers from Richard 11.
But the sets (by Colin Richmond, who also designed the costumes) are equally maladroit. The idea is that we are backstage, which is fine. But this is the tacky side of backstage with grotty flats and drabness - a poor setting for the glamorous Lilli Vanessi's dressing room, in which so much of the action takes place.
A cheap mirror rimmed with lighted bulbs, and a dirty sink for Fred Graham, evoked none of the glamour required for this particular star dressing room set, and the unrelenting grimness made a poor background for Mr.Quirijn and Ms Wild to deliver "Wunderbar", one of the show's prettiest numbers, with Ms Wild, who took over from Jeni Bern at the last minute, bringing off a triumphant performance.
Lois Lane (Amelia Adams-Pearce) Porter's sassy, sexy ingenue (who also plays Bianca) is a true flash of pure showbiz joy.
Here is an actress who can get a song across like a dream and has that rare quality Dolores Gray called "moxie" that indefinable oomph factor which lights up the night.
Her unreliable guy, Bill Calhoun was given a good showing by Alan Burkitt, who also proves he is a terrific hoofer but mention must be made of other company members who provided dance moments that were joyful and exhilarating in the show's legendary big company numbers such as "Too darn hot" (usually set in the hot street outside, but here, whimsically enough, held on the stage itself - why - for heaven's sake?)
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare" - one of the show's gorgeous numbers, was sung by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as the ganster hoods, in a way which left this reviewer feeling they should brush up their colourless performance levels, since their Brooklyn accents were wide of the mark, although their diction was fair in what has always been a demanding number.
Runs until Saturday