The Carl Rosa Opra Company tours Gilbert and Sullivan worldwide, and it’s presenting three of the duo’s immortal works at London’s Gielgud Theatre until March 1. The first of the three is The Mikado (to February 9), a perennial favourite, which is to be followed by the rarely seen Iolanthe (February 11 to 16), featuring soprano Maria Ewing, and ever-popular The Pirates of Penzance (Februrary 18 to March 1).
The enjoyable Mikado kicks off the season with plenty of panache and conviction, performed with the joyous esprit de corps of a touring company. Although the orchestra is smallish, I was pleased to note the clean, committed playing of Sullivan’s joyous, lyrical, witty score. The chorus sings and dances with spirited precision; the choreography is neat and fluent, with a kind of Victorian simplicity, but with a modern polish. In general, there’s very good, natural movement on the compact stage, amid colourful, beflowered Japanese decor. The costumes are rich, varied and handsome, as you?d expect from Peter Mulloy, artistic director of the Carl Rosa Opera Company, who worked on Topsy-Turvy as a researcher?the costumes are the same as in the film.
Overall, the singing is fine, including principals who’ve starred at Covent Garden and the ENO, including Charlotte Page as Yum-Yum, Andrew Rees as Nanki-Poo and Steven Page as Pish-Tush. Mr Page, always impressive and a baritone widely admired in places such as Glyndebourne, will appear in all three of the season’s operas, in the key roles of Iolanthe’s Lord Chancellor and The Pirate King. Substituting for the advertised Ko-Ko is Fenton Gray, an appropriately cheeky chappie, whose little list now encompasses Lotto winners, politicians not declaring donations and relations, and computer geeks.
Particularly good are the guest stars – Alistair McGowan makes the Mikado a bit like John Cleese, with a folksily eccentric demenour. As he goes through his special punishments for ‘society offenders’ (which include TV reality shows), he muses ‘yeah, that’s my favourite’, and breaks into a soft-shoe shuffle. But none of this is merely camp and outrageous, but part of the pleasure of the whole show. As is Nichola McAuliffe?s Katisha, who?s forbidding and imperious, but vulnerable and needy, too. She acts the part much more convincingly than we usually see it, and sings with true passion. And when she finally accepts Ko-Ko as a husband (albeit by trickery), she literally kicks up her heels in delight.
A real pleasure and a very slick ensemble achievement, which deserved the whooping applause it won at the close.
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