Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The Mikado - comic opera (1885)
Mikado of Japan - Richard Alexander (bass); Nanki-Poo - Kanen Breen (tenor); Ko-Ko - Mitchell Butel (baritone); Pooh-Bah - Warwick Fyfe (baritone); Pish Tush – Samuel Dundas (baritone); Yum-Yum - Taryn Fiebig (soprano); Katisha - Jacqueline Dark (contralto)
Opera Australia Chorus and Orchestra Victoria/Brian Castles-Onion
Directed by Stuart Maunder
rec. 24-25 May 2011, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Picture: NTSC/16:9
Sound: PCM Stereo, dts 5.1 Surround
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
This recording is not to be confused with the Australian Opera Sydney Opera House production (1987) [OAF4001D]. This Australian Opera production was first seen when televised by ABC in 1987. A D’Oyly Opera Company, studio-based film of 1966 was turned to video and then DVD [DVD160037] and is still available. Of the three this Australian Opera version is extremely fresh in its flamboyant production and clearly has much to commend it. The music follows Sullivan’s scoring most of the time yet benefits from a completely new overture which is extremely pleasant. Tim Goodchild’s lavish Japanese staging follows a pantomimic genre in some respects: huge vases/urns are used to hide in, and a large practical teapot dwarfs any Mad Hatter’s tea party. Pooh Bah (with all his roles ‘rolled into one’) is ‘put away’ in a man-sized wardrobe fitted with numerous filing drawers which doubles as his office. A few additions to the dialogue are appropriate, including Shakespeare, and do not interrupt the flow of the plot.
Stuart Maunder’s production is fast-paced and much detailed carefully planned stage business holds the audience’s attention. His characters are convincing and provide eccentric mannerisms ‘appropriate to their station’. Ko-Ko as a ‘Harold Lloyd meets Rik Mayall’ character is an acrobatic delight. At times, the stage business could be more subtle though and jazzy routines seem out of context with this style of music and so lose their humour. Nanki Poo with his cheesy smile delivers a splendid ‘A wandering minstrel I’ and Ko-Ko a witty ‘Little List’ (with some of the jokes distinctly Australian). Yum-Yum is deliciously feminine and takes on Gilbert’s conventional characterization.
Perhaps the school-girls in boaters, clutching tennis rackets with manly ties and shirts is too Westernized, and makes the novelty of Gilbert’s Japanese setting somewhat pointless. Maybe its a sort of St Trinian’s meets the Emperor of Japan. In contrast, the use of bowlers for the men with fans displaying ‘The Times’ work wells. Act II leans more towards music hall routines and Nanki Poo’s over-the-top moves upstage the impending interaction between Ko-Ko and Katisha. All characters sing superbly and the vocal numbers are a joy to listen to. The Mikado might have had more fire than the relaxed delivery of his spoken lines yet his resonant bass voice comes across well.
The contribution by the musical director and the orchestra was first class. A new and fresh version of the overture has been substituted for the traditional one. A passage, ‘But youth of course must have its fling’ used Mackerras’s ‘Pineapple Poll’ scoring with its elephant-trumping trombones evident in the finale. Those who mourn the disappearance of the original overture should understand that it was never written by Sullivan. Throughout the pace is brisk and is much in keeping with the lively stage action. Only the Act I finale seems musically insecure. With such fast playing an inaudible chorus gabble through it, and later a long rallentando for Katisha is too stretched to be effective.
All principals were separately miked and although this should have improved the singers’ sound quality a slight loss of top frequencies was evident. This may not be a problem on the Blu-Ray recording. The chorus was at times a tad drowned by the orchestra, where the sound quality was excellent. On the DVD copy used for this review, a technical on-line ‘freezing’ at the start of Katisha’s ‘The hour of gladness’ was noticeable. A well written booklet with synopsis and critique of former recordings of this opera by Andrew Greene is provided in English, French and German. There are colour photographs.

Raymond J Walker

Overall, superbly done.

see also review of the Bluray release by Michael Greenhalgh