The Mikado – 2011

OPERA AUSTRALIA: Written in 1884, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera feels fresh as a daisy in this new production starring Mitchell Butel.
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To quote another light, bright piece of musical theatre recently seen in Melbourne, Opera Australia’s Mikado is ‘practically perfect’. If you enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan, that is. Those who loathe catchy tunes, silly jokes, and jolly sets and costumes should steer well clear. Even those who have previously seen this production, which was first wheeled out back in 1985, will find much to enjoy, as the cast is first rate and everything looks fresh as a daisy.

Of course, there’s nothing new in the well-known plot. The setting is supposedly Japan, which is just a loose but exotic disguise for Victorian England – the absurdities of which are gently satirised in this tale of love and bureaucracy. As always, there are comic snippets of local, contemporary relevance, most notably when Ko-Ko reads his ‘little list’, and as always this new material is pleasantly amusing without pushing any boundaries.

One of the most delightful aspects of this Mikado is the pretty yet witty blending of 19th century English and Japanese styles, so that the ‘Gentlemen of Japan’, for example, have pinstripe kimonos and fans covered in The Times. Key to a set that reflects the Victorian taste for Orientalism in interior design are oversize jars and vases; they variously represent everything from a chariot to a bath. Tim Goodchild’s visual design is a triumph, from its small details to each arrangement of elements across the stage, all exquisitely lit by Derek Coutts.

Inhabiting this perky world is an equally perky cast, led by Helpmann Award-winner Mitchell Butel. His take on Ko-Ko as a bespectacled, nerdy Jew is a perfectly crafted display of silliness. Nice respite for Opera Australia’s usual funnyman, Kanen Breen, who naturally brings plenty of comic fizz to Nanki-Poo, but for once his strong, pleasing tenor is able to shine through.

As Yum-Yum, soprano Taryn Fiebig is also in fine voice, while the absurdly cut-glass English accent of her spoken parts is typical of how she winkingly throws herself into the sweet leading lady role. Her rival in love, Katisha, is a superbly realised opposite, with mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark a mock-terror in huge voice. Warwick Fyfe is also excellent value as the well-padded Lord High Everything Else, through whom Fyfe’s capacity for comedy is given a good workout.

Indeed, none of the cast can be faulted, including the Opera Australia Chorus. They enjoy outstanding support from Orchestra Victoria which, under the baton of Brian Castles-Onion, is the epitome of G&S zest and lightness.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado
Opera Australia
Conductor: Brian Castles-Onion
Director: Stuart Maunder
Designer: Tim Goodchild
Lighting designer: Derek Coutts
Principal cast: Kanen Breen, Taryn Fiebig, Mitchell Butel, Warwick Fyfe, Jacqueline Dark

State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne
May 17-21 and 24-28

Patricia Maunder
About the Author
Patricia Maunder is a Melbourne writer.