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Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado. Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of English National Opera, Simon Lee (conductor) at the London Coliseum. 4.2.2006 (ED)

 

The Mikado of Japan: Richard Angas (bass)

Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner: Richard Suart (baritone)

Nanki-Poo, his son: Keith Jameson (tenor)

Katisha: Felicity Palmer (mezzo-soprano)

Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else: Ian Caddy (bass-baritone)

Yum-Yum: Sarah Tynan (soprano)

Peep-Bo: Fiona Canfield (soprano)

Pitti-Sing: Anne Marie Gibbons (mezzo-soprano)

Conductor: Simon Lee

 

There cannot be many things that link Handel’s Xerxes with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado one might think, yet with English National Opera as the common factor both works have celebrated their twentieth anniversary outing in current productions on the London Coliseum stage.

If memory serves, I must have first seen this production around 15 years ago, when it was hugely enjoyable, and counted Lesley Garrett (Yum-Yum) and Eric Idle (Nanki-Poo) among the cast. Whilst some things change, others stay the same: Felicity Palmer reprises Katisha, as does Richard Suart as Ko-Ko and Richard Angas as The Mikado.

The Mikado’s plot is a standard A loves B who is loved by C. And there all sensibility in the plot ends as one might expect from the librettist-composer pair, who take the whole cast on a merry dance and in the process enjoy a laugh at all previous romances set to music. True, Jonathan Miller’s production does intentionally caricature the characters and the nature of the work itself – G&S, it might be said, gives Lehar’s spirit a uniquely English twist – but in doing so Miller adroitly brings out all the inherent fun.  Throughout the performance it was at once noticeable how the production retained its original spirit yet, where opportunities allowed, some updating entered into proceedings: among the targets on Ko-Ko’s ‘little list’ this time were the Lib Dem leadership contenders and the Chair of the ENO Board.

 

The production comes across once again with a spring in the step and sparkle in the acting; indeed it would be hard to identify a single moment of tiredness about it. Musically, all of it was given with a conscientious approach towards quality of playing and singing without ever labouring the fact. Simon Lee paced the work with feeling, and the orchestra gave of spirited playing that characterfully underpinned the singers. The chorus too proved stalwart support, even if at times their diction was not ideally clear.

 

Richard Suart’s performance was assured and carefully characterised to bring out Ko-Ko’s entirely self-serving attitude. As his long suffering side-kick Pooh-Bah, Ian Caddy proved equally able to project the inner silliness of the plot whilst maintaining an outward semblance of seriousness. Their vocal performances, like their acting, came on leaps and bounds as the evening progressed.

Nanki-Poo seems a role that Keith Jameson was born to sing, his clear tenor and at times over-precise pronunciation picking out idiosyncrasies of Gilbert’s knowingly witty libretto, particularly in items such as“A wandering minstrel I”. Similar comments can be made about Richard Angas’ performance as the Mikado, which too was cleverly played and sensitively sung.

 

The female roles, though fewer in number, offer great opportunities for accomplished singer-actresses but Felicity Palmer’s Katisha may be an ‘acquired taste’ in real life too - at least in some respects. The voice has a distinct tendency towards shrillness of attack, although this does prove useful in forming the character of a forceful old battleaxe – and she does have 'an exquisite right shoulder-blade that many would travel miles to see.'

Sarah Tynan proves her versatility as a singer yet again, absorbing Yum-Yum into her repertoire with ease. Beautifully sung, with moments of real tenderness, her acting is also confident and leaves a lasting impression, even to those (like me) who encountered the production years before. The 'girlish glee' that she shares with Fiona Canfield and Anne Marie Gibbons also proves infectious, and they offer each other expert stage support.

 

Some musical snobs look down their noses at Gilbert and Sullivan – but for the life of me I can’t see why: the contributions made by each of them lie easy on the ear even today and entertain while being good quality (if of their period.) For those willing to go along with the romp, this production offers many rewards. Go – go and enjoy it, although maybe it's best avoided around Valentine’s Day for any flirting at the Coliseum will surely be dealt with most severely. 

 



Evan Dickerson

 

Original Director: Jonathan Miller

Revival Director: David Ritch

Set Designer: Stefanos Lazaridis

Costume Designer: Sue Blane

Original Lighting Designer: Davy Cunningham

Lighting Revived by: Paul Taylor

Original Choreographer: Anthony van Laast

Choreography Revived by: Stephen Speed

 

 



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