Vivienne Kennedy reviews The Mikado, playing at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 25th June
The Mikado was the first opera I ever saw, a fairly clunky amateur production when I was about 11 years old. Clunky or not, it was a great introduction to a genre that many dismiss as “not for me”, and I’ve watched it again several times since in addition to other Gilbert & Sullivan works and a variety of more “serious” operas.
Composed by Arthur Seymour Sullivan, with a libretto by William Schwenck Gilbert, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, and designed by Dick Bird, this Scottish Opera/D’Oyly Carte Opera Company co-production of the ever-popular comic opera is sumptuous. As always, it is set in the Japanese town of Titipu, but this is Japan mixed with Victorian music hall, magic tricks and ventriloquism included, which adds an extra element of interest as you try to spot the British and Japanese elements of the beautiful sets and costumes.
The Mikado tells a quite ridiculous story centred on the role of the executioner in a land where flirting is punishable by death. It has been decreed that should an execution not be carried out within one month, Titipu will be reduced to the rank of a village. Ko-Ko has never killed so much as a guinea pig but now has a decision to make – he could execute himself, but that would be a) tricky, and b) as suicide, a capital offence. He needs to find a substitute.
Played out over two acts, it is easy to follow but long-winded to explain and as I don’t want to spoil it for anybody going along to Bristol Hippodrome later this week I won’t expand on that synopsis. Actually, the storyline isn’t that important, the opera was written mainly as a vehicle for W.S.Gilbert’s satire, making observations on the politics and institutions of the Victorian era, many of which are still relevant today. The excellent diction of the cast, as well as the addition of surtitles, makes it very clear just how clever his writing was.
For me the stand-out performances come from Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner; Andrew Shore as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else; and Rebecca de Pont Davies as Katisha, an elderly lady also known as The Mikado’s daughter-in-law elect, but there are no weak links and, of course, the orchestra, conducted by David Steadman, also deserve high praise.
On Referendum Eve I wondered who would make it onto Ko-Ko’s little list of people that won’t be missed, a number that is traditionally updated from performance to performance to reflect current affairs. Cameron is no great surprise and neither is an American Republican whose name rhymes with chump. It also includes “that” celebrity threesome, described as failed injunctionists, and former BHS chief Sir Philip Green, whose inclusion gets a big cheer.
Other highlights include Three Little Maids From School Are We, sung by Rebecca Bottone (Yum-Yum), Sioned Gwen Davies (Pitti-Sing) and Emma Kerr (Peep-Bo), and the madrigal Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day (Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush).
Whether you’re an opera virgin or have seen many, The Mikado offers an entertaining night out, without any need for deep thinking and unlikely, in contrast to more tragic operas, to invoke tears. It plays until Saturday 25th June and if it leaves you wanting more then look ahead to October when Welsh National Opera return to Bristol Hippodrome with a trio of Shakespearean inspired operas – The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, and Kiss Me Kate.
For further information and to book online, visit www.atgtickets.com
Image: Richard Suart as Ko-Ko and Stephen Richardson as The Mikado, Scottish Opera and D’Oyly Carte 2016. Photo by James Glossop