Broadway Stars Yield an Imperfect “Mikado”

12/04/2012

  Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado:  Soloists, Collegiate Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 10.4.2012 (BE)

Chuck Cooper: The Mikado
Jason Danieley: Nanki-Poo
Christopher Fitzgerald: Ko-Ko
Jonathan Freeman: Pooh-Bah
Steve Rosen: Pish-Tush
Kelli O’Hara: Yum-Yum
Lauren Worsham: Pitti-Sing
Amy Justman: Peep-Bo
Victoria Clark: Katisha

Ted Sperling: Conductor and Director

Amy Justman, Kelli O’Hara, Lauren Worsham, the Collegiate Chorale with Ted Sperling conducting; photo credit: Erin Baiano

For over 70 years, The Collegiate Chorale of New York has presented traditional and adventurous programming  ranging from (most recently) a Kurt Weill musical (Knickerbocker Holiday) to Rossini’s Moise et Pharaon, to choral works by Tippett and Bruckner. Last night’s concert performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado with the American Symphony Orchestra and a bevy of Broadway performers was a mixed affair, indeed. It also served as the Chorale’s Spring Benefit.

By 1884, composer Arthur Sullivan had had enough of W.S. Gilbert’s fantastical plots and declared he would write no more unless he was given something that dealt with human emotions. (Their most recent collaboration, Princess Ida, had not been as successful as they had hoped.) Gilbert said he would try to come up with something; neither or them wanted to give up the cash cow of their operas, which had made them very wealthy men. The story goes that an ornamental Japanese sword hanging in Gilbert’s study came crashing to the floor, inspiring him. Given that, at the time, all things Japanese were the latest fad in England, Gilbert invented the fictional town of Titipu and a plot that would include meticulous use of Japanese costumes—while of course, satirizing British institutions and politics. Sullivan was delighted. The Mikado opened at the Savoy Theater in March 1885, ran for almost two years and is, arguably, Gilbert & Sullivan’s most performed and popular creation.

Concert performances can be a tricky business. They are usually put together quickly without much rehearsal time, and this seemed to be the case here. There were missed cues and dropped lyrics, even though the cast had the score at the ready. Things got off to a shaky start at the beginning of Nanki-Poo’s “A Wandering Minstrel,” but tenor Jason Danieley sang the rest of his role with a clear, ringing tone. As Ko-Ko, Christopher Fitzgerald sang well but was over the top in his acting, at times bellowing his speeches, reminding me of Gene Wilder’s hysteria in Mel Brooks’s film, The Producers. As has become the tradition, Ko-Ko’s “list song” included topical references to TV celebrities (e.g., Kim Kardashian), American politicians (Newt Gingrich) and even a poke at “Gilbert purists” (all penned by television writer Joe Keenan). Supposedly this tradition was started by Gilbert himself in a 1908 revival of The Mikado, although back then he didn’t use specific names but referred to archetypes such as “The lovely suffragist” and “The red-hot Socialist.”

A typical Gilbert & Sullivan chorus consists of 20 or some members. This one—at 200 voices, ten times as large—sang nicely, especially during the extended first act finale, and incorporated some bits of stage business, e.g., waving Japanese fans and occasionally pointing at the audience. But sometimes diction suffered; my companion, not familiar with the opera, had some problems understanding the lyrics. Surtitles would have helped.

Ko-Ko’s partners in crime were well conceived by Jonathan Freeman, Steve Rosen, Lauren Worsham and Amy Justman. Disappointing, however, was the portrayal of Katisha by the Tony Award-winning Victoria Clark, who went for easy laughs coupled with outrageous stage business. Given that her arias were sung with such feeling, her onstage antics were even more perplexing. In Act Two, the Broadway star Kelli O’Hara (as Yum-Yum) gave a lovely reading of “The sun whose rays are all ablaze.” If only the rest of the evening had lived up to that standard.

The performers seemed to be enjoying themselves (after all, this was a gala benefit) and the audience loved it—perhaps too much: a gigantic burst of laughter during Ko-Ko’s “Tit-Willow” only confused me. If there is a silver lining in all of this, I noticed many young people in the audience. If this imperfect evening encouraged any of them to seek out recordings of the legendary D’Oyly Carte performances, justice will have been served.

Ben Eichler

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers 29 April – 11 May 2019 in Leicester __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 Performances of Stephen Storace’s Gli sposi malcontenti __________________________________
  • NEW! Nevill Holt Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Aldeburgh Festival at the Snape Maltings in June __________________________________
  • NEW! Garsington Opera’s 2019 30th Anniversary Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Venus Unwrapped: Kings Place’s Year-Long Focus on Women Composers __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Buenos Aires in 2019 – Largely Traditional __________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Ahead to the 2019 Lucerne Festivals __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! A New Initiative is Announced Supporting the Development of Female Conductors __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Boito’s Mefistofele on 24 March at the QEH __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Ivan Putrov’s Against the Stream Ballet Gala Night on 7 April __________________________________
  • NEW! London To Hear Long-Overdue Revival of Parry’s Oratorio Judith in April __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! Ik zeg: NU: I say now, now … an interview with Richard Causton __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month