Upon exiting Clowes Memorial Hall this past Sunday after the matinee performance of Indianapolis Opera’s The Mikado, this reviewer overheard an attendee remarking, “I hate to admit it, but this is the first opera I have ever attended. Frankly I had no idea it was going to be so much fun!”
Opera, for some, is an acquired taste, but like the aforementioned audience member discovered,The Mikado was the perfect introduction to the art form. It just so happens to be one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s (librettist and composer respectively, who created numerous comic operas during the Victoria era) most famous comic operas. Also, because its satirical humor was made relevant due to clever updates of the lyrics, and sight gags with contemporary references added, this Indianapolis Opera production was hugely entertaining and a pure delight.
Briefly,The Mikado tells the story of a minstrel (or second trombone in this particular wacky script), Nanki-Poo who comes to the mythical Japanese city of Titipu to marry Yum-Yum, only to learn she is engaged to her guardian Ko-Ko, who is Lord High Executioner. Pooh-Bah, the Lord of just about everything inTitipu enters the picture to consort with Ko-Ko to thwart Nanki-Poo’s ambitions. Nanki-Poo confides to Yum-Yum that he is the actually the son of the Mikado (Japanese Emperor) and is trying to evade the unattractive Katisha who is determined to marry him. It is agreed that Nanki-Poo can marry Yum-Yum, but in a month’s time must be be-headed. From that point on, there are a series of absurd occurrences leading up to the inevitable happy ending but not before a lot of harebrained, zany, tomfoolery unfolds.
Featuring the superb Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, conducted by James Caraher, the production’s main attraction were the performers in the lead roles who were not only exceptional singers but also, magnificent comedic actors as well. They were supported by a highly accomplished chorus, marvelously guided by Chorus Master, John A. Schmid, with the entire ensemble excelling, under the tutelage of Stage Director/Choreographer, Bill E. Fabris.
At times, while watching cast members perform, it was like witnessing a master class in the art and craft of comedy. Reminiscent of the kind of physical comedy and timing exemplified by icons such as Carol Burnett & cast of “The Carol Burnett Show” and Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca of “Your Show of Shows,” this cast turned out performances that were at times brilliant.
At the top of the list of the production’s many top notch performances was that of baritone Robert Orth, whose characterization of Ko-Ko was marked by agile expressiveness and drollness. Next were the antics of David Ward’s, grandiose and pretentious Pooh-Bah. Ward’s powerful, buffo bass voice and physical presence was bigger than life whenever he appeared on stage. Equally imposing was his exaggerated enunciation, especially whenever he hilariously rolled his “r” s. During their scenes together Orth and Ward were a pleasure to observe because one had a sense that the two master showmen enjoyed playing off one another and entertaining the audience
Also possessing both vocal and comic prowess were mezzo soprano Susan Nicely as the fiendish Katisha, lyrical-voiced tenor Patrick Miller as the affable Nanki-Poo, and soprano Laura Portune as the coquettish, self-involved Yum-Yum.
Completing the roster of gifted singers in leading roles were Jacqueline Brecheen as Peep-Bo, Kirsten Cornstein as Pitti-Sing, Mark Gilgallon as Pish-Tush and Kevin Eckard as The Mikado.
For more information about the remainder of Indianapolis Opera’s 2010-2011 Season call 317.283.3531.