The Mikado fun but without much bite, If Opera

This evening entertainment at If Opera’s summer festival, an offering of this Charles Court Opera version of The Mikado, was well-received by the audience. Judging by judicious eavesdropping, the audience members particularly enjoyed the humour and did not seem phased by the transposition of the Gilbert and Sullivan story to an all-British group of colonial officials rather than intentionally pantomime Japanese. The former is clearly open to ridicule, the latter strictly verboten. Does it make sense? Not particularly, but, hey the audience either knew the “real” story or just went along for the ride.

Jonathan Miller famously and very successfully placed the whole send up of what everyone knows is a send up of the British establishment (and nothing to do with Japan) in a grand 1930s hotel. It is now a standard trope. Here the small chamber opera company puts its small troupe into a British consulate office in probably a bit later. The characters are therefore all British officials or military officers of one sort or another (including The Mikado) plus those three girls. This reworking similarly gives all the characters English names that are sort of reminiscent of the originals, but it is easy to follow.

The central and strongest performance is from Matthew Kellett as Ko-Ko, here Colin Cole. Think Del Boy and you have the characterisation exactly. He proved a vivacious, loveable rogue, never ceasing to entertain us and at ease with the vocal requirements. On the performance I attended Matthew Palmer took the role of The Mikado while on a previous evening the show’s director the wonderful G&S performer John Savournin performed it. Both men were double cast as Peter Rush (Pish-Tush). Palmer has a fine versatile voice and rose well to the comic role.

Alys Roberts was a nicely balanced Yum-Yum, sorry, Victoria Plum (I guess a pun on the fruit as well as bathroom company?), her sparkling singing and defined drawing of the not-so-innocent character. Matthew Siveter played Hugh Barr (sigh, Pooh-Bah) as sort of Stephen Fry-esque type (sardonic, likeable and annoying at the same time). Our wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo (sort of) here Charles Chauncey Drew, was pleasantly taken by Jack Roberts.
Meriel Cunningham as Milly King (Pitti-Sing) and Jennifer Clark as Pip Bow (Peep-Bo) completing the schoolgirl trio.

What on earth to make of the characterisation of Katisha given to Catrine Kirkman? Yes, she is good in the role and towards the end when she has to ridicule herself, she is genuinely funny, although I am not sure how it fits in with the 21st feminist sensibilities. Apparently in some outings this has been a drag role perhaps something like the reporter Mary Sunshine in Chicago. Anyway, the audience laughed at the character when necessary. (I am since informed that in London baritone Matthew Siveter took who played Hugh Barr in Bradford-on-Avon took the role.)

David Eaton kept up the pace with his small team of players.

The disappointment was that this is a Gilbert & Sullivan with no bite. While concentrating on making the opera as non-Japanese as possible, which is fine as it isn’t about the Japanese, in this Belcombe Court libretto it was just, well, vanilla. The “little list” and other occasions for contemporary satire, were just dull. It is as if the company just did not know how to judge this audience so stayed well clear of anything that might offend so all the opportunities to apply the social and political satire to 2023 were lost. What was left was, thankfully Gilbert & Sullivan’s glorious score and silly story, but bereft of what makes these satires such fun as well as worthwhile. By all accounts elsewhere there were plenty of digs and jabs at today’s politicians, as Gilbert & Sullivam would have wanted and audiences have ocme to expect and love.

Forming part of Charles Court Opera’s summer tour, it is a gentle evening of entertainment.

The 2023 season continues with Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta at, September 13, 15, 16

Bill Knight Image from previous performances.

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