Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



The Mikado
06 Mar 2011

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado

The front leg of the grand piano may rest at a rather precarious angle, and the out-sized martini glass lean a trifle askew, but Jonathan Miller’s 1986 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado wears its twenty-five years lightly — as do Stefanos Lazaridis’ eye-wateringly white, gleaming sets.

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado

Ko-ko: Richard Suart; Nanki-Poo: Alfie Boe; Yum-Yum: Sophie Bevan; Pooh-Bah: Donald Maxwell; Katisha: Anne Marie Owens; The Mikado: Richard Angas; Pish-Tush: William Allenby; Peep-Bo: Fiona Canfield; Pitti-Sing: Claudia Huckle. Conductor: Peter Robinson. Director: Jonathan Miller. Associate Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall. Set Designer: Stefanos Lazaridis. Lighting Designer: Davy Cunningham. Choreographer: Anthony van Laast. Revival Choreographer: Stephen Speed. Dialogue Coach: Selina Cadell. English National Opera, Saturday 26th February 2011.


Miller’s long-runners have been ubiquitous on London’s operatic stages of late — Così and Don Pasquale at Covent Garden, and (in combination with a new L’elisir d’amore), La Boheme, Rigoletto and now The Mikado at the Coliseum. And, the director’s enthusiasm for revisiting and refreshing past projects seems undiminished: having involved himself with this latest revival, he appeared on the opening night to oversee the topsy-turvy affairs.

A superb cast rose to the occasion. As a no-nonsense Yum-Yum, Sophie Bevan delivered ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ which brightness and buoyancy — a moment of ‘normalcy’ among the mayhem. Alfie Boe — kitted out with kiss-curl and blaring blazer — is a Tigger-ish Nanki-Poo, all enthusiasm and bounce; perhaps a little uncertain of his dramatic direction initially, Boe’s wide-eyed innocence came through more effectively in Act 2. His warm, flexible tenor conveyed both youth and sincerity, and matched Bevan’s timbre and colour most pleasingly.

Alongside the drolleries of the young lovers’ courtship, Donald Maxwell’s Pooh-Bah was hilariously haughty; he possesses a powerful baritone, but his strong speaking voice boomed with equal sonority, his Scottish brogue bellowing to the far reaches of the auditorium. Richard Angas, a veteran Mikado of Japan, returned to the role once more; Angas was vocally secure and presented a well-studied portrait of indifferent imperiousness, his understated authority possessing just the right hint of menace.

Anne Marie Owens’ Katisha, glamorously be-jewelled, was perhaps not sufficiently harridan-esque. She effectively brought out the pathos of the role, but was rather too good at arousing our pity. And, she struggled at times to project successfully. Claudia Huckle was more at home in the role of Pitti-Sing: her contralto is clear and bright, and she acted the dialogue entertainingly. Frances Canfield, as Peep-Bo, made the third of a fine trio in ‘Three Little Maids’, although the absence of choreography here (when elsewhere all was manic movement and fizz) was rather a weakness.

The dialogue coach, Selina Cadell, has clearly worked hard to implant the rules of cut-glass R.P. among the cast and chorus, and the distorted vowels certainly come from the back of the throat. There’s always the danger of over-kill, but here and through other conceits Miller captures the essential ‘artifice’ of the work. Nowhere is this made more wryly apparent than with the extravagant preparations for Ko-Ko’s entry, which is anticipated by the kowtowing court with trumpet voluntaries, elaborate genuflections and splashes of rose-petal confetti, only for the high-and-mighty-one to fail to appear … and so, eyes are rolled, grins are fixed, petals are hastily gathered up and the entire sequence is repeated. The zany choreography and props — sashaying headless servants and a fat-suit for The Mikado — together with the over-bright, gleaming lighting, add a frisson of surrealism and risk. Such details scratch at the façade of the dazzling white-and-cream hotel lobby, and perhaps hint at the latent instability of the edifice: Titipu may not ready to topple yet, but there’s the danger of least a wobble or two.

In the pit, Peter Robinson kept things ticking along with precise and well-judged comic timing; if anything the orchestra was a little ‘restrained’, but perhaps this was to allow the text to shine, and Robinson was certainly sensitive to the singers in this regard.

The entire cast, including the shimmying maids and the bopping bell-hops, were clearly having a marvellous party. The engine driving the show is, however, the Lord High Executioner himself, Richard Suart, whose unprincipled, unscrupulous Ko-Ko is effortlessly slick. Emphasising the Executioner’s self-interest and opportunism, Suart’s Ko-Ko is deliciously cynical. Surprisingly he manages to balance slapstick and hamming with innuendo and suggestion. Casting an eye at both the political leader columns and the celebrity gossip pages, his ‘little list’ of those ‘for the chop’ has naturally been updated, and this time around deluded Arab dictators, mincing coalition politicians, philandering footballers, affianced royals and, inevitably, Silvio Berlusconi, all found themselves in the firing line. Suart’s comic timing is superb; he pauses to relish the sharper moments, before rushing on to the next joke, keeping the audience hooked, ever-ready for the next bombshell. His mimicry is spot on, encompassing models as divergent as Olivier’s Richard III, Frankie Howerd and Gordon Brown.

The perfect visual and dramatic embodiment of G.K. Chesterton’s observation that, in fact, none of the jokes in the play fit the Japanese but ‘all the jokes in the play fit the English’, Miller’s 1930’s hotel-foyer staging seemed inspired at its first appearance, has proved itself both reliable and perpetually inventive, and is fast assuming the epithet ‘classic’. At the end of this run, no doubt the costumes will be carefully wrapped in tissue paper, as I don’t expect that this is the last we’ve seen of this production. In contrast to the ‘victims’ on Ko-ko’s list, it really would be missed.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):