Opera Reviews
20 March 2023
Untitled Document
It's all good fun
by Sarah Noble
Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado
Opera Australia
Sydney Opera House
27 August 2009

Photo: Branco GaicaLove, death and the Far East have always been popular - and potent - ingredients in any operatic cocktail, but no opera mixes them up quite like Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, where love is lighthearted, death even more so, and the orientalism is much more about poking fun at Mother England than romanticising an exotic culture.

Opera Australia's production (a revival by Stuart Maunder of Christopher Renshaw's 1985 staging) picks up this frivolous Britishness and runs gleefully amok with it, filling the stage with the trappings of a thoroughly English Japan: oversize teapots, an ermine-clad Mikado, and quilted pastel kimonos in which no real Japanese schoolgirl would be seen dead. It's an appealing production, as cheery and colourful as Sullivan's score and as blithely illogical as the story itself.

Anthony Warlow is outstanding as Ko-Ko. His light, breezy baritone is at engaging ease in this music, and he's a natural comedian, imbuing KO-KO with an endearing nervous energy and personable sense of humour which are irresistible. Warlow is well matched by the slender Etonian Nanki-Poo of Kanen Breen, who, after a rather overstated beginning, soon settles into a delightful portrayal of the young lover. His crisp tenor is mostly well-suited to Nanki-Poo's serenading, and the role also offers Breen a nice opportunity to display his talent for dancing and physical comedy. Completing the trio of uproarious leading men is the rotund and ridiculous Pooh-Bah of Warwick Fyfe. Fyfe has sung a wide variety of roles for the company, but his strong, solid baritone and flair for zany comedy have rarely been put to better use than here, as the hilariously and meticulously multifarious Lord High Everything Else. Luke Gabbedy puts in an enjoyable appearance too as a suitably stiff Pish-Tush.

Photo: Branco GaicaTaryn Fiebig's Yum-Yum is rather less impressive. The prettiness of her singing is too often submerged by her breathy delivery, and her muddled acting and bizarre English accent are no match for the charisma of her two suitors. Her sisters are more stylish: Jacqueline Dark is resplendent in voice and hyperactive humour as a freckled Pitti-Sing straight out of Enid Blyton, and Annabelle Chaffey is a winningly sardonic Peep-Bo.

No Gilbert and Sullivan operetta would be complete, of course, without an interfering contralto: Adele Johnston obliges with a garish and demonic Katisha, reveling in the quasi-Verdian atmosphere of her dramatic Act I entrance and vamping outrageously in her encounter with KO-KO Her abrupt switches from matronly soprano to Broadway belt are disconcerting, but ultimately only add to the character's exaggerated villainy. Richard Alexander's mercurial Mikado is better still, calm and rational one moment, bellowing the next, and very funny indeed when he struts his way through "A More Humane Mikado".

A rather small chorus (twelve men, twelve women) provides enthusiastic support, although a hint of unease in their movements on opening night- particularly in the opening "Gentlemen of Japan" chorus - suggested a few more rehearsals might not have gone amiss. Brian Castles-Onion leads a sprightly, if somewhat scrappy rendition of the score, enjoying himself just as much as the audience members who cheered him so wildly at the end of the night.

The Mikado might not be great art, but it certainly can be great fun, and that's just what Opera Australia's production provides: an engaging production, a talented cast and, in Anthony Warlow, a leading man whose brilliant performance might just be worth ticket price all on its own.

Text © Sarah Noble
Photos © Branco Gaica
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