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S & H Opera Review

The Mikado Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera/Gareth Jones. London Coliseum, Friday April 30th, 2004 (CC)

 

This run represents ENO’s tenth revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. It is easy to see how it has lasted so well - this is a thoroughly entertaining evening. The production is as slick as can be. Set in a palm-court hotel (not necessarily in Japan), bellboys and maids dance as if their lives depend on it. So non-specific is the location that, in the opening chorus, the participants make ‘slanty-eye’ movements as they sing, ‘We are gentlemen of Japan’- just so we get the idea.

Lighting is carefully considered. The Overture (neat, springy rhythms) is performed with the house lights down low, ensuring maximum contrast with the predominantly brilliant white opening scene. The staging is busy, but never overly so, and frequently delightful (the bellboy who struts across the stage during an ensemble wielding a ‘NO FLIRTING’ sign is but one example). Yet there is intimacy of emotion there, too: Katisha’s aria (Act 2) was remarkably touching (all credit to the singer, Frances McCafferty).

The various stock-in-trades are all part of the fun, from the token, general Northern accent (i.e. somewhere North of Watford) to the introduction of topical events into the text - here, ‘Tosh (sic) and Becks’, and (the one that got the biggest laugh), ‘George Bush’s poodle’. Amazing what a really good guffaw does for healthy endorphin release.

Our stripey-jacketed, boatered Nanki-Poo, Mr Bonaventura Bottone (as he appeared in the credits) was by turns comic and tragicomic. His legato was as smooth as his outfit. Another cast member who seemed to live out his part was the ‘Lord High Everything Else’, Pooh-Bah, here the terribly English and very, very funny Ian Caddy. Three brisk and clean-as-a-whistle maids (from school were they) were the source of pure delight. Victoria Simmonds and Fiona Canfield took the parts of Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo respectively, and did so pertly and prettily. Maid supremo Yum-Yum was a real star of the show - Jeni Bern, giving her role debut. She has received positive feedback from these pages before, as Amor in Gluck’s Orpheus, also at ENO: although the press pack stated her ENO debut had been as Sophie in Rosenkavalier in Spring 2003). Deliciously coquettish, miraculously sweet, her solos consistently brought great pleasure.

Richard Angas’ huge of girth Mikado projected well (when Angas sang excerpts form Boris Godunov with my old University orchestra, he sounded much more muffled in tone). Richard Stuart’s Ko-Ko was fully up to ensemble’s standard; Frances McCafferty’s Katusha, already praised above, was an imposing, almost Wagnerian assumption.

Despite the individual excellences, it is important to note that Mikado plays to all of ENO’s strengths, from the choruses and dances, to the ensembles (the madrigal was gorgeous). Conductor Gareth Jones’ pacing was faultless, so that the evening went without one even noticing time passing. Eminently recommendable.

Colin Clarke


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