United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado: Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera / David Parry, Coliseum, London, 1.12.2012. (CC)
Richard Suart Ko-Ko
Robert Murray Nanki-Poo
Mary Bevan Yum-Yum
Donald Maxwell Pooh-Bah
Fiona Canfield Peep-Bo
Yvonne Howard Katisha
Richard Angas The Mikado of Japan
David Stout Pish-Tush
Rachael Lloyd Pitti Sing
Jonathan Miller Director
Tyler-Hall Revival Director
Stefanos Lazaridis Set Designer
Sue Blaine Costume Designer
Last time I saw Jonathan Miller’s excellent production of Mikado, it was back in 2004 (review). There are some notable similarities between then and now, notably Richard Suart celebrating his 25th anniversary in the role of Ko-Ko, and Richard Angas as The Mikado of Japan. This is an all-British cast in wonderfully English music, and ENO clearly knows it is on to a winner: this was the first of no less than twelve performances, running right through until January 31.
The production’s delights don’t dim (although eight years is plenty of time to recuperate from my last viewing, in fairness). Neither does the delight one can take in ENO’s superb chorus (throughout, but particularly hilarious in “If you want to know who we are” and “Miya sama”). The setting is ripped from Oriental Titipu and dropped into a 1930s hotel (staging by Stefanos Lazaridis, a frequent collaborator at St Martin’s Lane in the 1980s), brightly lit, cream dominated and in many ways the perfect backdrop for the G&S tomfooleries. And of course topical references are updated to be, well, more topical. So out with 2004’s Bush-Blair poodle and Tosh and Becks, in with Leveson, Starbucks and Pippa Middleton’s admirable posterior. Great stuff.
It is the slickness of it all that impresses, and on this occasion the superbly choreographed stage antics were matched by the impeccably behaviour of the ENO orchestra under David Parry. Parry found much subtlety in the score as well as high-jinks, so much so that some moments were genuinely touching. His achievement was to make us take the music seriously while relishing each and every delicious joke.
The cast was expertly chosen, each member fitting their part like a glove. Richard Suart seemed to have a ball of a time as Ko-Ko, while Robert Murray was a beautifully posh, somewhat effeminate Nanki-Poo. Murray’s voice was pure delight, though (the eloquent phrases of “The flowers that bloom in the Spring” seemed to sum up his strengths perfectly). Star casting this time round with Donald Maxwell as Pooh-Bah (yes, that Maxwell who so impressed in the Royal Opera’s Fille du régiment in May 2010, as he did in the Barbican Met telecast in 2008). Maxwell can do nothing wrong in comedy, it appears. His experience shines through everything he does; his vocal technique is at the full service of the ongoing mayhem. Richard Angas is also a most experienced singer, and he made everything he could out of his role, while delivering the goods vocally with undiminished power.
The Three Little Maids (from School), Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing (Mary Bevan, Fiona Canfield and Rachael Lloyd respectively) were deliciously innocent and wonderfully vocally blended; another little ensemble, the imitation madrigal “Brightly dawns our wedding day” (Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush) was similarly delightful. Mary Bevan, this night’s Yum-Yum, is an up-and-coming graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge whose freshness, both of voice and of just plain youth, seemed perfect for the part.
Top of the laughs was Katisha, sung (and acted with full abandon) by mezzo Yvonne Howard. She sang Sieglinde in the recent Hallé Walküre (on the Hallé’s own label) which should give you some idea of her expressive capabilities. Applied to comedy, the results are nothing short of magnificent, not to mention intimidating (“Bow, bow to his daughter-in-law elect” was simply fabulous, a real tribute to the phenomenon of the galleon-like English contralto). In addition there was something imposing, touching and yet vaguely preposterous about her “Hearts do not break” aria in the second act. This was very nearly a show-stealing performance.
In short, everything about this Mikado breathes style. ENO at its very best. Go and see it.