Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842 - 1900)
The Mikado(1885) [88.00]
The Mikado - Richard Alexander (bass)
Nanki-Poo - Kanen Breen (tenor)
Ko-Ko - Mitchell Btuel (baritone)
Poo-Bah - Warwick Fyfe (baritone)
Pish-Tush - Samuel Dundas (bass)
Nobleman - Tom Hamilton (bass)
Yum-Yum - Taryn Fiebig (soprano)
Pitti-Sing - Dominica Matthews (mezzo)
Peeb-Bo - Annabelle Chaffey (soprano)
Katisha - Jacqueline Dark (mezzo)
Opera Australia Chorus
Orchestra Victoria/Brian Castles-Onion
rec. live, 24-25 May 2011
OPERA AUSTRALIA OPOZ56016CD [51.04 + 36.42]

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 Carte?
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 slant tangentially.
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 interpolations.
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 old-fashioned Katisha.
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.
Robert Hugill 

see also reviews of the Bluray version by Michael Greenhalgh and the DVD version by Raymond Walker

Dynamic and quite vivid. Annoying or characterful, it depends on your point of view.