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Kiss Me, Kate by Opera North review – ‘operatic class’

Jeni Bern in Kiss Me, Kate at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. Photo: Alastair Muir Jeni Bern in Kiss Me, Kate at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. Photo: Alastair Muir
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While English National Opera has bizarrely just announced a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard for next year – hardly a show that demands or deserves the opera house treatment – it’s a relief to report straight away that there’s no sense of Opera North slumming it or selling out (except, hopefully, in the good sense: at the box office) in reviving Cole Porter’s blissful 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Arguably the greatest backstage musical ever written, it revolves around a production of The Taming of the Shrew that is trying out disastrously in Baltimore. Not surprisingly, the musical has also previously proved to be a big hit for the Royal Shakespeare Company. But giving it operatic class and heft means not just that the chorus can really lend it a sense of teeming life, but also give it the fullest orchestral sound possible. Conductor David Charles Abell has also undertaken an archivist’s task to reconstruct the original orchestrations with co-editor Seann Alderking. The result is a pulsating sound that feels fresh, vivid and alive yet also perfectly in period.

So, too, are the brilliant dance sequences conjured and expanded by Will Tuckett – the Act II curtain raiser Too Darn Hot is exhilaratingly brought to life by Wayne Robinson.

But Jo Davies’s production also works wonders by achieving an expert blend between established operatic voices like the gorgeously toned coupling of Quirijn de Lang and Jeni Bern as the warring Fred and Lilli, sweetly contrasted with the old fashioned song-and-dance qualities of bright-faced and keen-limbed Ashley Day as Bill Calhoun and Tiffany Graves as Lois, whose second act solo Always True to You in My Fashion is a true showstopper. So, too, is Brush Up Your Shakespeare, expertly performed by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin with just the right knowingness.

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Opera North gives this masterpiece the works in the most musically satisfying version of Porter’s show I've seen