Modified Mikado

7 Dec

Hugh Canning’s review of Co-Opera Company’s Mikado in the October OPERA magazine was so good that I changed a few appointments to get to see it when it reached Hastings on 3rd December.  Maybe a Tuesday night in December at the White Rock in Hastings isn’t the best way to experience the piece.  Or perhaps not in the reduced version put on by Co-Opera.  It didn’t help that we had a small audience that seemed to have been bussed in from the local morgue.

Let’s get the problems out of the way.  Gilbert and Sullivan operas were written  for a company, including a chorus of 32 and a decent opera-sized orchestra.  They had considerable amounts of money spent on them and dance was an important element.  All the most successful post-D’Oyly Carte productions have understood this and given us an element of spectacle.  With the best will in the world, you cannot replicate the excitement and the spectacle that is an integral part of any decent Gilbert and Sullivan opera with a cast of eight, doubling up as the chorurs.  As a result, the finales fell flat and the sheer exhileration you should feel after Act I was missing.

Similarly, does anyone else remember how “here’s a how de do” used to stop the show when the old D’Oyly Carte did, simply through the extravagant silliness of the choreography?  Nobody, not even Jonathan Miller has been able to reproduce anything like that.  Here, the choreography was tame and the show missed the lift that it can get – many of the numbers lost their impact as a result.

Perhaps these were the downsides of what otherwise was a really alert and enjoyable performance of the piece.  What was key was the way in which the excellent cast performed the text as if it was new.  It was beautifully inflected, delivered with panache and you relished the way everything really meant something.  It felt as if the text had been cleaned and spruced up.  Examples?  You actually felt Katisha’s grief when she first thought Nanki Poo was dead.  Martin Nelson’s Mikado made more out of My Object All Sublime than any other Mikado I have heard.  There were countless little touches that made you listen to the words (which I know pretty much by heart) anew.  On that count alone it was worth the visit.

The cast, too, was excellent: mostly young singers, but performing was a real assurance.  Tristan Stocks made a handsome, intelligent Nanki-Poo, stretched slightly by some of the demands of the music, but here is a very pleasing light tenor with a nice quality – he’d be a great Candide.  Llio Evans was a really lovely, alert Yum-Yum who did a charming Sun whose rays, which was gorgeously shaped to the words.  Thomas Asher’s Pish Tush, normally a nothing role, did the best Our great Mikado I have ever heard, simply through his alert use of words and was a constant joy to watch.  I like a rather larger, oilier figure and voice than Owain Browne could provide for Pooh-Bah, but he just about made up for it by the understated wit of his performance.  Susanne Holmes and Pitti Sing and Georgina Stalbow as Peep-Bo worked hard and well.

Of the more experienced singers, Sandra Porter contributed a really moving, well-sung, characterful Katisha who managed to make the figure moving and funny.  Martin Nelson was an admirably cool, impeccably timed Mikado.  David Phipps-Davies was one of the best Ko-Ko’s I’ve seen – turning him into a rather pathetic, grumpy, insecure little man.  I couldn’t help feeling that Grossmith might have been like this.  He contributed a lengthy but very, very funny little list.

John Andrews conducted a rather intelligent performance.  Tempi struck me as a bit on the slow side but it helped with the articulation of the words.  His phrasing, however, was glorious – the oboe playing of The Sun whose rays in the overture was a joy – and he gave as joyous a performance as an orchestra of 13 and a cast of eight allowed.

James Bonas was the director and must obviously take lots of credit for all the good, stylish acting and great dialogue. I wasn’t particularly taken by the idea that it was set in an opium den in 1901 but, to be quite frank, there was nothing beyond the overture to suggest that this was at all relevant.  Above all, he needed a decent choreographer.

So it was nice evening and I enjoyed myself.  At £22, it was a pretty good bargain.  It probably wasn’t worth rearranging the rest of my life for.  The last time I saw something in Hastings, I thought Hastings deserved better.  For all the virtues of the staging  The Mikado deserves more than this.

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