Opera Australia does ‘The Mikado’

The following post was written by Daniel Swain (TVWhore_DANIEL on our forums)

Well, Opera Australia has done it again with another fantastical production!

The first time I saw Opera Australia’s ‘The Mikado’ was on a VHS recording broadcast by ABC TV in the early 90’s. That production was recorded in 1987 and featured Heather Begg and Graeme Ewer, I immediately fell in love with the show and Opera.

For years I’ve wanted to see The Mikado live. Luckily, not so long ago, I took a trip to see The Mikado at the Sydney Opera House starring the all so great Anthony Warlow. I had worn out the VHS and DVD for years re-watching and re-watching. I never thought the updated version with Anthony Warlow could upstage the original 1987 version. I was mistaken. My first impression of the updated Mikado was "the stage looks so different compared to the DVD." However, overall I thought that Stuart Maunder and co breathed some fresh air into the operetta, while not tarnishing the original Christopher Renshaw production.

Now we find ourselves here, in 2011. I’m thinking "how are they going to top the previous two?" Well, they did it again!

Mitchell Butel’s fresh take on Ko-Ko is pure genius. He makes the role his own, Butel relishes every minute of the spotlight. Butel’s quick delivery of one liners, witticisms and personalised sound effects as he moves to one side of the stage to the other are truly unique. A highlight was the ‘Little List’ song; it poked fun at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 'Love Never Dies'. Also, I never imagined I would have heard the word "vagine" in a G&S show. I loved it! Nice touch with the iPad towards the end of the song. Modernisations of jokes were welcome to make it relevant to what’s happening today, while keeping to the true spirit of The Mikado. Mitchell Butel does a great Julia Gillard too.

Kanen Breen’s flamboyant portrayal of Nanki-Poo had the audience in stitches and was a joy to watch. He was perhaps the happiest, most positive character in the entire show, even when his character was in peril. Breen was having great fun with the role, and it was transparent to the audience too. I take my hat off to you, sir! A true juvenile who upstages Mitchell Butel at every turn!

Warwick Fyfe played no nonsense, straight-faced, unsmiling and grossly overworked Pooh-Bah (no wonder he was born sneering) was hilarious.

Jacqueline Dark was something terrific as the delightfully evil and wicked Katisha. Her Alice Cooper-like tongue moves had the younger audience members hiding behind their seats. The audience felt for Katisha’s plight but at the same time felt petrified by her mighty whip. Dark’s excellent portrayal of Katisha was only reaffirmed when I heard a kid seated 4 seats down say “Oh no, she’s all alone. What’s she going to do, I feel sorry for her” during the ‘The Hour of Gladness” solo towards the end of Act 1. Jacqueline Dark had great, yet creepy (in a sexual predator type of way) chemistry with Mitchell Butel.

I send high praise to Orchestra Victoria and conductor, Brian Castles-Onions, or should I say “Bri-Bri”? Brian gave the audience an unexpected, great little jump in the air and clicked his heels together in curtain call. Oh, and on a side note I couldn’t stop thinking that Brian Castles-Onions looked a lot like American character actor, John Billingsley (search Google Images).

Being in front row, behind orchestra pit has many advantages. The music seemed a lot louder than it probably was to everyone else. The music went through you like a speeding bullet, specifically: introduction of the Mikado. The overture was upbeat and very fun to sit back and listen to. I was focusing all my attention on the orchestra pit as much as I was watching all the action on stage. This was my first time at sitting behind the orchestra pit; I won't be forgetting it anytime soon. The orchestra sounded even better than the big orchestral scores they put together for a big Hollywood movie soundtrack. Very special and should be heard by everyone. I wish I had Orchestra Victoria and Brian Castles-Onion follow me around and play music appropriate to what mood I’m in and feeling at that time. My hat goes off to you, ladies and gentlemen!

Being about five feet away from the performers, you tend to notice more details in costumes and sets. The design is breathtaking! So much detail in costumes, make-up, props and set that the keen-eyed couldn’t detect. It is a very bright, very lavish, very colourful and upbeat production. By the end of the show the audience were clapping along to the catchy and whimsical songs & leaving with big grins on their faces.

As we approach the end of this enormous review (perhaps too long), I want to thank Jacqui Dark very much! I’ve been talking to her over Twitter for the past couple of weeks; she was lovely enough to wave to me at curtain call. Being such a huge fan of this particular operetta, watching and watching for 20 years, you have no idea how much that meant to me. I would go as far as saying: I wish I were a chorus member, at the very least, a fly on the wall during rehearsal.

I only have two negative feedback points – 1) It ended too soon 2) There was a scene missing from ACT 2; “See How The Fates There Gifts Allot”

It has become a tradition for Opera Australia to bring back The Mikado every three to four years, to which I say: I can’t wait until it comes back! I’m also glad Opera Australia has made the move to cinematic releases of (I think) all their Operas. I also can’t wait for The Mikado (2011) to be re-released on DVD; it’s very much needed. As much as I love the 87’ VHS/DVD release, the sound quality is a bit poor, considering it was filmed in the 80’s without lapel mics. So in conclusion, VERY HAPPY JAPAN!

Thank-you to the cast, crew, Brian Castles-Onions, Orchestra Victoria, Opera Australia, The Arts Centre Melbourne and the wonderful Stuart Maunder for bringing the joy and excitement back for another year. A huge standing ovation for another fantastical performance!