Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):