Last year’s Sweeney Todd was the first musical that Welsh National Opera have produced. This season sees a second attempt at the musical canon with a production of Cole Porter’s 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate which returns to the Wales Millennium Centre for the final week of its run having been on a short UK tour. The show is a co-production with Opera North – it was originally staged a year ago using the same creative team, including director Jo Davies and four of the main cast members.

Cole Porter’s musical comedy is set in 1940s Baltimore at the opening night of a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The drama unfolds both on-stage and off as a battle of the sexes develops between leading lady Lilli and her leading man Fred. He’s also producing and directing the show. He’s also her ex-husband, and he has an eye for the young blonde dancer Lois Lane. When Lois’ gambler boyfriend Bill gets himself into money trouble, he signs an IOU using Fred’s name and a pair of gangsters arrive at the theatre demanding payment.

The sort of comic chaos that inhabits Kiss Me, Kate needs a lightness of touch and good pacing in order to overcome some now out-dated humour and to ensure the clarity of a story which constantly switches between its backstage theatre setting and onstage drama. At over three hours long the WNO production is a rather plodding affair and the scenes need more momentum to create better impact. The strength – as one expects – is in the singing and the company deliver such Cole Porter classics as ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’ and ‘Too Darn Hot’ with confidence and vocal style.

The cast is an interesting mix of opera and musical theatre performers. The two leads, Jeni Bern and Quirjin de Lang as Lilli and Fred, reprising their roles from the Opera North production, have more of an operatic background. Playing Bill and Lois are two newcomers to this production, the fabulous dancer Alun Burkitt and Amelia Adams-Pearce (who is ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ in one of the show’s cheekiest numbers), both from the world of musical theatre.

Seeing an opera company staging a musical in a venue that provides both musicals and opera to their audience plays havoc with one’s expectations. The programmes states that amplification is used ‘in keeping with musical theatre practice’, yet the whole affair is rather muted and underplayed. It’s a colourful production with effective use of a large chorus…yet it’s just too restrained.