Carl Rosa Opera celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with its debut season in the West End, presenting three Gilbert and Sullivan operas at the Gielgud. In this first production, Alistair McGowan and Nichola McAuliffe join the company for a tongue-in-cheek operatic romp through old Japan in The Mikado. Caroline Bishop was at the first night…
Japan and all things Japanese were in vogue in the 1880s when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote The Mikado. But the image of Japan that they created in this comic operetta leant less on reality and more on affectionate caricature. In this production Carl Rosa Opera puts its tongue firmly in its cheek and plays up those caricatures, showing off both the strong voices and the comic talents of its cast.
The plot, which is played out against a colourful pop-up book set of cherry blossom trees and pagodas, centres on Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado of Japan, who has fled his home to escape marriage to the spinsterish Katisha. Disguised as a wandering minstrel, he arrives in the town of Titipu and falls in love with Yum-Yum, who unfortunately is already engaged, unhappily, to the town’s Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko. So begins a light-hearted, frilly plot involving marriage, attempted beheadings and much fan flicking, which is a colourful showcase for Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic characters and cheerful songs.
An entertaining cast is led by Andrew Rees as Nanki-Poo and Eric Roberts as small, bald, self-important Ko-Ko, who revels in his reading of the (humorously updated) list of reasons for public beheadings: ‘politicians not declaring donations’ being one of them.
A large chorus of women is led by the three sisters, including Charlotte Page as the girly Yum-Yum, who displays a flair for comedy as she admires her own beauty in the mirror on the day of her wedding.
The company is complemented, though not dominated, by its special guests. McAuliffe, known for her many stage and screen credits in dramatic and musical roles, here shows she can stand her ground in the opera world with her portrayal of the aging, desperate, man-repelling Katisha. As the Mikado himself, Alistair McGowan sings the snappily titled ‘A more humane Mikado never did in Japan exist’ with his trademark range of facial expressions, funny walks and voices. A good head above the rest of cast in height – more if you count his comical headdress – he makes a fitting ruler in his black and gold robes, standing over his subjects.
As you would expect in this light-hearted story, all works out well in the end, love prevails, no one is beheaded and even Katisha finds herself a bloke. Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous piece may be quaint, old fashioned and stereotyped, but by not taking it too seriously and adding a few modern references, Carl Rosa Opera shows it can still entertain. em>CB