Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Mikado

English National Opera, 30 January 2013

As the production hs been around since 1986, it has been taped.
Here is the first scene, courtesy of youtube.

In presenting the operetta as 1930s screwball, this impressively musical production misses some of the edge in Gilbert.

Though The Mikado is a modest political satire, mostly on the law, it does parody cultural traits of the English, and one of those cultural traits now includes a passion for The Mikado. In this, it is a cousin of Wilde's contemporary The Importance of Being Earnest, which likewise considers Englishmen as children.

I don't think The Mikado operates at the same consistently high level as Wilde's masterpiece, but the comparison makes me think better of what can otherwise seem a trivial comic opera.

It's surely fair that unlike any other operatic collaboration, librettist Gilbert gets equal billing with composer Sullivan. For it's Gilbert that defines the partnership, with his groping for rhymes so that even Katisha's otherwise serious aria is comic through rhyming on I.

But Gilbert's humour also exhibits a peculiar form of bad faith, so that his parody of romance and opera in general seems bitter, rather than for example the balanced parody of Wilde. If Gilbert is sentimental, as often claimed, then it is a self-hating closeted sentiment.

While it's good to hear trained opera voices tackling Sullivan's music, Jonathan Miller's production (revived by Elaine Tyler-Hall) has flaws. By setting the action in England around 1930, the comedy is a little too obvious.

The actual Mikado should also seem genuinely powerful, which isn't the case here. I dislike Gilbert's respect-it subvert-it attitude to authority, but it is central to his work, and by reducing the visible threat levels, his drama loses some bite.

Intrusive peppy dancers and the occasional karate chop also seem to not quite capture the mood of the opera, and are distracting. The overall impression is that Miller doesn't really like the work, and I can't blame him, but presumably having some liking for the work is necessary to create an effective production.

My ambivalent feelings were not shared by many of my fellow audience members. The full house seemed to find everything worth appluading and laughing at, however feeble. I left feeling Gilbert's joke was on me somehow.

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