The Mikado hasn’t done brilliantly well on disc.
Granted there are individual performances which are outstanding
but there isn’t quite one which is perfect. Sir Malcolm
Sargent has a strong cast, but his speeds are generally regarded
as a bit plodding. One of the best modern recordings is that
of Sir Charles Mackerras, but would you really want to be without
Valerie Masterson’s performance as Yum Yum for D’Oyly
This new recording comes from Australian Opera and is a live
recording of a production which uses Japanese style costumes
but which, the publicity tells us, has a distinctly Australian
slant. Something of this comes over on the recording, but as
the spoken dialogue has been cut we only get the Australian
The issue of spoken dialogue on disc is a bit of a problem;
basically you don’t have much choice because just about
everyone cuts it apart from D’Oyly Carte. It seems to
be assumed that even if you are listening to a recording taken
from live performances, Gilbert’s dialogue is of no interest.
In fact Mackerras also cuts the overture (by Sullivan’s
assistant) in order to fit on one CD.
The slightly frustrating thing about this new set is that it
comes from a live performance, so there was dialogue and is
on 2 CDs so that there was room for dialogue. The CD
booklet, though quite chatty, is a little light on the sort
of information I would have liked. I’m pretty sure that
the overture we hear is re-orchestrated, but the CD does not
say. Also, the orchestra sounds quite authentically small, but
no sizes are given.
Finally there is the role of Ko-Ko, which is sung by the actor
Mitchell Butel; best known in Australia for his appearances
in the musical ‘Avenue Q’. So we must presume that
he used some sort of mike; the photos don’t make it clear.
There again the production photographs have no captions so we
have to guess as to who is whom.
What of the performance? Well, it is very vivid and memorable,
clearly based on a live and vividly amusing production. Whatever
I thought of individual performances, I don’t think that
I could live with the production for repeated listening. It
is too specific, too related to the live theatrical event and
too full of rather annoying little riffs, asides and spoken
Kanen Breen as Nanki Poo has a rather robust voice; I have a
feeling that heard live he would be a complete delight. His
voice has been caught rather close, so you get the a little
too much vibrato and texture. His is not the most mellifluous
of performances, though certainly characterful.
His Yum-Yum is Taryn Fiebig. I have to admit that at first I
wasn’t very taken with her performance. In Act 1 she comes
over as a little too mature and developed, but then in Act 2
she gives a lovely radiant performance of The sun whose rays.
Mitchell Butel as Ko-Ko has a very Broadway-type actor’s
voice, but certainly knows what to do with it and his diction
is superb. I just wish that someone had reined him in a bit.
His mugging starts to wear thin after a bit. His little list
is very contemporary and rather wearing.
Warwick Fyfe’s Pooh-Bah sounds, at times, rather pressed
at the top and dry. His Katisha is Jacqueline Dark; she sounds
quite young and light-voiced. So her role is nicely sung, but
she does sometimes distort the vocal line for effect. I have
to admit to rather missing the dark voiced contralto of the
Richard Alexander is a pretty impressive Mikado, and thankfully
his list of punishments fitting the crime is pretty traditional.
Samuel Dundas is a perfectly respectable Pish-Tush.
The singing is done with good diction and rather cut-glass English
accents, probably intended to sound rather artificial from an
Australian point of view.
The chorus are a vivacious lot, with lots going on besides actual
singing. There must have been quite a bit of stage business,
both from the sounds and from the fact that ensemble is sometimes
a bit variable.
The recorded balance does rather favour the orchestra, though
they sound a relatively small band. They contribute some nicely
crisp, engaging playing.
Conductor Brian Castles-Onion favours quite brisk speeds. He
keeps things moving and ensures a dynamic and quite vivid performance.
The booklet a track listing, detailed summary and article. At
88 minutes this is rather short for a 2 CD set.
This recording will probably appeal mostly to listeners for
whom the cast are well known: supporters of Australian Opera.
For those of us for whom the cast are mainly just names, the
recording just has too much mugging and extra-musical verbiage.
Annoying or characterful, it depends on your point of view.
see also reviews of the Bluray version by Michael Greenhalgh and the DVD version by Raymond Walker