Carl Rosa Opera “The Mikado” at the Gielgud Theater


For three months or more I’ve been looking foward to seeing The Mikado at English National Opera. And then, a week or so before it was to play, I suddenly heard …. an entirely different company was doing the same production, at the same time, in a smaller house, with the costumes from Topsy Turvy.

Well. Carl Rosa Opera Company, you say? I’d never heard of them, but I dropped ENO faster than you can say “”Three little maids from school are we” (more lyrics and a humorous quiz here) and bought high altitude seats at the Gielgud (where recently we’d seen Macbeth – a more different show could hardly be imagined!). Fortunately the orbital section was lightly populated and we were able to make our way from the very very edge into the center, though still some 500 rows up (and yet still better than the shit seats at Spamalot!). This was enough for a fine view of what were ultimately to be very silly proceedings.

What, really, am I to say about The Mikado in general? I had never seen it before, and thus it was on my list of Shows I Want To See, especially after performing in Patience a few years back in Seattle. It’s just … it’s very silly. “Oh, a missive from the Mikado!” says a character. “But it’s all in Japanese!” (Pause.) “But I am Japanese, and we are in Japan! This means I can read it.” It wasn’t about being authentically Japanese, it wasn’t even pretending – which is good, because the sets were mostly Chinese and the women’s costumes had so many things wrong with them that I would have been really bothered if I’d have thought they were trying to get it “right.” With characters named Peep-Bo and Yum Yum, who were they kidding?

But you know, what’s right for Gilbert and Sullivan? Was it amusing, could you understand the lyrics (which are funny), was it tuneful, did you enjoy watching it? Really, it’s a taste you either have or you don’t, and I kind of have to start from the point that this is the kind of thing you’ll enjoy, with its multiple layers of corn and utter lack of depth, as I do. It’s in some ways a recreation of Victorian society, and, since I find it interesting and amusing, I enjoyed it. The costumes were top quality, the choreography entertained my eye, the updated lyrics (to two songs) were a hoot (“I’ve got a little list” with all of the modern pecadillos and politicos was great), the women’s voices (especially the trios) shimmered. My only complaints were that the men were not tight enough with their patter (and if the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan society could drill us into the ground, these guys could do as least as well as we did) and the entire performance seemed a bit … well, passionless. Like Lear and the infamous Mary Poppins, this show just smacked of “we could do this in our sleep and some of us may at this very moment be in another room.” They didn’t have the commitment of the Annie Get Your Gun folks, who were singing their damn hearts out to a capacity crowd of about 50. But still, it was professional, at at 15 quid a ticket, we really could not complain. If you like G&S or have an interest in this play or this era of theatrical history, I do recommend this show. That said … I think I’ve had my fill for another six months or so, and will be taking a pass on Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance. But in the future I know I’ll see more G&S, and, truth be told, I fancy I’ll want to see another Mikado, but only if done as well as this one was.

(This review is of a performance seen Friday, February 8th, 2008.)


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One Response to “Carl Rosa Opera “The Mikado” at the Gielgud Theater”

  1. Preview of August: a month in theater « Webcowgirl’s Weblog Says:

    […] has won my heart and thus will get me to make the bet this one will have ten times the charm of the first. 15 (Friday): West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells. They’re about the cheapest seats I […]

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