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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by W S Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu, is probably the most popular of the 14 comic operas written by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan in the 25 years between 1871 and 1896.
The work enjoys an enduring popularity that has seen it presented in many languages on many stages throughout the world, and to this day it is believed that on any day in the year, the opera is playing somewhere.
The piece opens in the courtyard of Ko-Ko’s palace in the town of Titipu. A gathering of Japanese nobles is interrupted by the arrival of Nanki-Poo, a wandering musician (second trombone) who is in search of his beloved Yum-Yum.
Some months ago as he was playing with the Titipu town band, their eyes met, and they fell in love. However, Yum-Yum was engaged to her guardian, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, and so Nanki-Poo left the town. Hearing that Ko-Ko had been condemned to death for the crime of flirting, Nanki-Poo has returned.
Nanki-Poo’s hopes are dashed however, by Pish-Tush, who explains that in an effort to prevent anyone else from being beheaded, Ko-Ko has been raised to the post of Lord High Executioner, thus ensuring that no one else can be executed until Ko-Ko beheads himself. Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything-Else, after having received a considerable bribe, reinforces the point by telling Nanki-Poo that Ko-Ko is to wed Yum-Yum that very afternoon.
Ko-Ko arrives and consults Pooh-Bah about the details of his wedding. Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Yum-Yum, her friends Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, together with their school chums.
Yum-Yum is delighted to find that Nanki-Poo has returned, but is alarmed when he reveals that he is, in fact, the son of The Mikado, having fled his father’s court and the unwanted attentions of the Katisha. In despair at the thought that Yum-Yum is to marry Ko-Ko, Nanki-Poo attempts suicide, but is persuaded by Ko-Ko to submit to execution at the hands of the public executioner in a months’ time, provided that he can marry Yum-Yum in the interim. This will allow Ko-Ko to fulfil a decree received from the Mikado himself. However, the first act ends in confusion as Katisha arrives, recognises Nanki-Poo, and threatens to reveal his whereabouts to his father.
opens in Ko-Ko’s garden Spa, where Yum-Yum’s friends are preparing her for her wedding to Nanki-Poo. The only drawback is the prospect that Nanki-Poo will be beheaded in a month’s time, but a readjustment of the theory of time brings the lovers some relief.
Relief which is short lived however, as Ko-Ko reveals that he has discovered that by the Mikado’s law, when a married man is beheaded, his wife is buried alive. An announcement that The Mikado is about to arrive prompts speedy and drastic action as Ko-Ko dispatches Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo to be married by the Archbishop of Titipu (Pooh-Bah), and then prepares to face the Mikado.
Ko-Ko aided by Pitti-Sing and the Titipu coroner (Pooh-Bah), gives a graphic account of the recent (fictitious) execution, only to get themselves deeper into trouble when Katisha reads the death certificate and discovers Nanki-Poo’s name. The three conspirators are condemned to death by boiling in oil, the only concession being that this will take place after luncheon.
This delay gives Ko-Ko just enough time to woo Katisha and persuade her to marry him, this time before the registrar (again Pooh-Bah). When the Mikado reappears, all is resolved in truly Gilbertian manner; Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are able to come back to life and everyone (except, perhaps, Ko-Ko and Katisha) is happy!
If you want to know who we are
Chorus of Men
A Wand’ring Minstrel I
Nanki-Poo and Men
Our Great Mikado, virtuous man
Pish-Tush and Men
Young man, despair
Pooh-Bah, Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush
Recit., And have I journey’d for a month
Behold the Lord High Executioner
Ko-Ko and Men
As some day it may happen
I’ve Got a Little List
Ko-Ko and Men
Comes a train of little ladies
Three little maids from school are we
Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo, Pitti-Sing & Girls
So please you, Sir, we much regret
Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo, Pitti-Sing, Pooh-Bah, and Girls
Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted
Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo
I am so proud
Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko and Pish-Tush
Finale Act I
With aspect stern and gloomy stride
The threatened cloud has passed away
Your revels cease! … Oh fool, that fleest my hallowed joys!
For he’s going to marry Yum-Yum
The hour of gladness … O ni! bikkuri shakkuri to!
Ye torrents roar!
Braid the raven hair
Pitti-Sing and Girls
The sun whose rays are all ablaze
Madrigal, Brightly dawns our wedding day
Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush
Here’s a how-de-do
Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko
Mi-ya Sa-ma /
From every kind of man obedience I expect
Mikado, Katisha, Chorus
A more humane Mikado
The criminal cried as he dropped him down
Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing, Pooh-Bah, Chorus
See how the Fates their gifts allot
Mikado, Pitti-Sing, Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko and Katisha
The flowers that bloom in the spring
Nanki-Poo, Ko-Ko, Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, and Pooh-Bah
Recit. and song, Alone, and yet alive
On a tree by a river /
There is beauty in the bellow of the blast
Katisha and Ko-Ko
Finale Act II
For he’s gone and married Yum-Yum
The threatened cloud has passed away
The Mikado of Japan
(bass or bass-baritone)
His Son, disguised as a wandering minstrel and in love with Yum-Yum (tenor)
The Lord High Executioner of Titipu (comic baritone)
Lord High Everything Else (baritone)
A Noble Lord (baritone)
A Noble Lord (bass)
A Ward of Ko-Ko, also engaged to Ko-Ko (soprano)
A Ward of Ko-Ko (mezzo-soprano)
A Ward of Ko-Ko (soprano or mezzo-soprano)
An Elderly lady, in love with Nanki-Poo (contralto)
Chorus of School-Girls, Nobles, Guards and Coolies
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Generally regarded as the most popular of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, The Mikado is also one of the most recorded, not just as a G & S work but also as an operetta. The proliferation of recordings makes it almost impossible to review every recording and therefore I have listed below only those complete, or almost complete, performances which are currently generally available.
As might be expected, The Mikado achieved a complete (or almost complete) recording as early as 1908 and featured Walter Passmore creator of Rudolph in The Grand Duke who also played many of the ‘Grossmith’ roles, including Ko-Ko, both in London and on tour between 1896 and 1903, and so would have been coached by both Gilbert and Sullivan. This recording as far as I can ascertain has never been transferred to CD. It was issued by Pearl on a single, very well filled, LP in 1980 and anyone who comes across a copy should acquire it as it is a remarkable document. The sound quality is surprisingly excellent for the age of the recording. The catalogue number is GEMM 198.
1917 saw the commencement of the first HMV series of recordings (acoustic) made under the supervision of Rupert D’Oyly Carte and The Mikado became the first work to be recorded in a series of 9 finishing in 1925 with the advent of the electrical recording process, at which point it was decided to start again. The 1917 Mikado was recorded entirely with singers who were contracted to HMV - no D’Oyly Carte principals appeared at all.
The advent of the electrical recording process heralded a new era in the infant recording industry. The use of multiple microphones allowed full orchestra and chorus to be recorded as effectively as the principal singers. HMV were quick to embark on a second series of G & S recordings and The Mikado was again the first choice. By now the principal singers were mainly D’Oyly Carte, although George Baker appeared in the role of Pish-Tush.
The 1926 set is of great historical interest as it preserves the performance of Henry Lytton as Ko-Ko, one of his most famous roles. Lytton had first appeared as a principal at the Savoy in 1887 when he took over the role of Robin in Ruddigore to cover for Grossmith who had been taken ill. Lytton along with Leo Sheffield (Pooh-Bah) had worked with Gilbert and so the recording preserves many of Gilbert’s intentions. Also present are Darrell Fancourt in the title role, the ever popular Derek Oldham as Nanki-Poo and the inimitable Bertha Lewis as Katisha.
78s2cd have issued the recording coupled with the 1936 MIKADO. Pearl offer the recording coupled with the 1933 abridged Sorcerer - GEMM CDS 9025.
Between 1926 and 1929 HMV recorded 10 operas. The country however, was in recession and times were hard so between 1931 and 1933 HMV recorded abridged versions of four operas.
Then in 1936 HMV started a third series which, with the commencement of the Second World War in 1939 would be interrupted and remain incomplete.
Once again, it was The Mikado that was chosen to start the new series. On this occasion all principal singers were D’Oyly Carte performers, as were the chorus. Isidore Godfrey conducts a sparkling performance. Henry Lytton having recently retired from the company, a young Martyn Green plays the role of Ko-Ko and it is easy to see why he has always been so widely regarded as one of the best G & S patter baritones. His diction is faultless and there is a twinkle in the voice that says ‘I’m having so much fun with this’. Darell Fancourt and Derek Oldham repeat their roles of 1926 whilst Sydney Granville is a suitably pompous Pooh-Bah. The ever delightful Leslie Rands appears as Pish-Tush. Of the ladies, Josephine Curtis acquits herself well as Katisha albeit she is a little lightweight at times. This casting is strange as Miss Curtis was normally an understudy. Marjorie Eyre is a charming Pitti-Sing.
The set has been reissued on a number of occasions. Of those currently available, Pro-Arte have issued the recording complete on a single disc CDD 3416. Arabesque issue the recording as a 2 cd set with no filler - Z8051-2. A further issue is a coupling with the 1930 recording of HMS Pinafore - Happy Days - CDHD 253/254.
Hollywood has always held the musical in high regard. Unfortunately, when this comes to the transfer of stage musicals to the silver screen, there has often been little regard for the integrity of the original and considerable mutilation has taken place. Girl Crazy, one of the great Gershwin musicals is a case in point as most of the original musical numbers were cut.
At around the same time as Girl Crazy, Hollywood turned it’s attention to Gilbert and Sullivan and in particular The Mikado. In the event the opera escaped quite lightly, retaining most of the numbers from the score (albeit not always in their rightful positions) and in general sung quite well. A number of the cast too, were from D’Oyly Carte. Martyn Green plays Ko-Ko, Kathleen Naylor plays Peep-Bo, Gregory Stroud plays Pish-Tush and Elizabeth Paynter (Nickell-Lean) plays Pitti-Sing. Most importantly the role of Pooh-Bah is again played by Sidney Granville. Granville had performed with D’Oyly Carte as early as the London Season of 1908 - 1909 and had therefore been directed by Gilbert himself. The chorus is that of D’Oyly Carte, the orchestra is the London Symphony and the whole is conducted by Geoffrey Toye.
As a ‘soundtrack album’ this issue is very generous running to over 74 minutes. The CD is issued by Sounds On CD VGS 203.
With the end of the Second World War came a new era in the recording industry. For D’Oyly Carte this heralded a change of recording company. DECCA were in many ways pioneers having been experimenting
with the techniques of recording long playing records, the first of which they issued in the USA as early as 1949.
In the UK they started a new series of Gilbert and Sullivan recordings with D’Oyly Carte which for the first time
would include all 11 operas from Trial by Jury through to The Gondoliers.
The Mikado was recorded in just one day, 8th March 1950, and preserves the standard cast of the day, a cast that was beloved of many fans and could not (in their minds) be bettered, no matter what came in later decades. The recording was reissued a number of times during the LP age, but technology did not favour these old recordings, and flaws in the recording process of the day we often exaggerated by the improving technology to the detriment of the performances. Now, in the digital age it is possible to minimise such flaws and to hear the real performances which have lain hidden underneath for so many years.
Given this new clarity it is easier to see the appeal of artists such as Martyn Green who here is on top form as Ko-Ko. His diction is excellent, some will say has never been bettered, and there is that catch in the voice that betrays the twinkle in the eye. Darrell Fancourt (nearing the end of a long career) is superb in the title role. Leonard Osborn is as ever, slightly nasal as Nanki-Poo, but turns in a creditable performance despite this. Richard Watson is an unctuous Pooh-Bah and Alan Styler a haughty Pish-Tush. Margaret Mitchell, Joan Gillingham and Joyce Wright make a delightful trio of little maids, whilst stalwart
Ella Halman makes an effective if lightweight Katisha.
The whole is conducted by Isadore Godfrey in his usual
lively, well paced, style.
This recording has been reissued on a number of occasions on CD. Chris Webster (Sounds On CD) being one of the first. Of the others Naxos - 8.110176-77 issue a two disc set at bargain price. Pearl - GEMS 0134 - issue a three disc set coupling the opera with the 1950 recording of The Yeomen of the Guard. In common with other Pearl releases in this series, Acts One of Mikado and Yeomen are presented on Discs 1 & 3 respectively with Act Two of both operas on Disc 2. Regis - RRC 2041 issue a two disc set, coupling the opera with the 1949 recording of Trial by Jury.
This recording made on 25th November 1954 live at the Savoy Theatre in front of an invited audience, is a remarkable document in many ways. It was made for broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day that year. Remarkable as it preserves the performances of a number of D’Oyly Carte performers at the outset of their careers. Darrell Fancourt, Martyn Green,
Richard Walker and Ella Halman had all recently left the company and, for many, their replacements were at the core
of cast lists that would become the mainstay of a new
D’Oyly Carte golden age.
Peter Pratt assumes the role of Ko-Ko and is a real delight. It is easy to understand why he had such a following despite a short career with the Carte. His allusion during the ‘Little List’ to Mrs Dale’s Diary (a long running radio soap of the day) is greeted with gales of enthusiastic laughter and after that he can do no wrong. Donald Adams is an impressive Mikado and shows all the promise that would come to fruition over the next decade and more. Neville Griffiths is a charming Nanki-Poo, Jeffrey Skitch is delightful in the role of Pish-Tush. As Pooh-Bah, the much underrated Fisher Morgan makes a rare recorded appearance. Joyce Wright is still there but now promoted to Pitti-Sing whilst the delightful and charming Beryl Dixon is Peep-Bo. May Sanderson was only an occasional principal performer (understudy) but she gives an exceptionally assured performance as Yum-Yum, so thorough was the D’Oyly Carte training that even understudies had their fans. Last but by no means least, Ann Drummond-Grant (Mrs Isidore Godfrey) is exceptional as Katisha.
The recording is transferred from an off-air tape of unknown origin (a rarity for 1954) and therefore the quality is not always of the best. The announcer insists on giving the stage directions every time someone enters or exits, but this is in a way part of the period charm of this recording. Chris Webster has done marvels with his transfer and once your ears adjust, this is a really delightful performance. Sounds on CD - VGS 256.
Issued by Sounds On CD - VGS 256.
I bang on about this so often that I begin to get tired of hearing it myself. What Sir Malcolm Sargent was thinking about when he made this series of ‘Glyndebourne’ recordings, I just do not know. Considering that Sargent was a musical director of D’Oyly Carte in the 30’s and that his recordings from that period are so spirited and lively, one has to ask ‘what went wrong’. This ‘Glyndebourne’ series only begins to show any life in the last three recordings (Pirates, Patience and Ruddigore).
The idea of using established opera singers is an excellent one, although in the case of this recording there is at least one serious mis-casting. The large chorus and orchestra, too, add a great deal. But the great problem in this, and several of the other recordings, is the pace - it is painfully slow and therefore, deadly dull. There is no spark, no life, no fun. One feels that the singers themselves must have felt this as there is an impression that at times they are trying to force the pace, but Sargent isn’t budging. All this seems borne out by a conversation I had with John Reed many years ago when he cited several run-ins with Sargent. In John’s case Sargent actually gave way - a rare occurrence apparently.
The cast here is led by Sir Geraint Evans as Ko-Ko, and this is the first mistake. Evans is a superb singer, but not for G & S patter roles. He is no patterman and all his work here suffers as a consequence. It is like trying to dance in a vat of treacle. All this brings the rest of what should have been an excellent cast, down.
For those who want this recording for the sake of completeness - HMV Classics - HMVD 5 73059-2, recently repackaged once again and now reissued on the Classics for Pleasure label.
Whereas the Sargent recording might be considered the worst complete Mikado on disc, the D’Oyly Carte recording of the same year (1957) is probably the best. It never ceases to amaze me that DECCA have never reissued this recording on CD, always preferring the 1973 production, presumably to preserve the continuity of John Reed in the patter roles.
Isidore Godfrey is in the driving seat once again and conducts a masterly account of the score, presented here for the first time in the new FFSS (Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound), a medium in which DECCA was never bettered, and which bought out every detail of the orchestral colouring. This system, by using a ‘sound stage’ marked out into a grid of numbered sections, allowed the singers to move about for the first time, creating in that time, a quite remarkable illusion of a spacious theatrical performance.
Donald Adams is now well bedded into the title role and the famous laugh, as only he could perform it, is one among many highlights. Peter Pratt is a totally delightful, loveable Ko-Ko, whilst the inimitable Kenneth Sandford makes the role of Pooh-Bah so very much his own as he was to do until the demise of the D’Oyly Carte in 1982. Thomas Round, surely one of the most treasured of all D’Oyly Carte tenors is a ringing Nanki-Poo. Jean Hindmarsh was always one of the most well loved soprano leads and here she is totally winning as Yum-Yum. Beryl Dixon is promoted to Pitti-Sing and Jennifer Toye assumes Peep-Bo. Ann Drummond-Grant (who would pass away after a long fight with cancer just 12 months later) is a formidable Katisha and shows exactly why her early loss was such a tragedy. The D’Oyly Carte chorus is on top form and gives one of their best recorded performances ever. Sounds on CD -
The recording is issued under licence from DECCA by Sounds On CD VGS 237 and also on the Magdalen label METCD8002. This recording has now also appeared on a number of other labels for download (Amazon and iTunes).
1st choice recording
With the expiration of copyright on December 31st 1961, the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas passed into the public domain. There was a great fear that there would be a tidal wave of ‘modernized’ productions, but in the event, despite being freed from the perceived ‘tradition’ the feared free-for-all just didn’t happen.
The first non-D’Oyly Carte productions to appear were both from Sadler’s Wells (now English National Opera). A delightful Iolanthe was closely followed by an equally delightful Mikado. Both productions achieved television broadcasts and both were recorded although Iolanthe received a highlights recording only.
The Mikado recording has appeared in a number of reissues although the current CD issue is its only appearance in that medium.
Alexander Faris conducts a very lively and well-paced performance, including the only recording of his overture which, although very different to the one we are accustomed to, excellently suits the pace of the production. Clive Revill is not perhaps someone you would expect to appear in a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, but here he gives an excellently different account of a rather sly and scheming
Ko-Ko, quite different to what we had been used to. The rest of the cast is exceptionally strong, with Patricia Kern a particularly memorable Pitti-Sing and Jean Allister very imposing as Katisha.
The recording is coupled with the highlights of the Sadler’s Wells Iolanthe and is available on Classics for Pleasure - CFPD 4730
In 1967, having gone full cycle with their 2nd series, DECCA began a 3rd Gilbert and Sullivan series. Mikado was recorded in 1973 and although an excellent performance in many ways, this recording never seems to have surpassed that of 1957. Isidore Godfrey had retired after a long and distinguished career with D’Oyly Carte (one that earned him and O.B.E.), and his successor, Royston Nash, whilst highly competent, came from a military background and his somewhat unsympathetic, regimented approach did not lie easily with the company of the time. Again, John Reed would cite many instances of a battle of wills across the footlights between himself and Nash, as Reed wanted to give the audience what they wanted whilst Nash wanted to stick to the letter of the score (as it were). Eventually Reed and the company won!!
By the time of this recording, DECCA’s technical advances?
led to a drier, less natural sound and this tended to take some of the enjoyment away from these performances although digital re-mastering has sorted out much of this and provided a more natural feel. John Reed is excellent as Ko-Ko and he and Kenneth Sandford really carry the enterprise. Colin Wright sounds harsh as
Nanki-Poo, quite unlike how he came across in the theatre. John Ayldon had recently assumed the title role from Donald Adams and it has to be said that, whilst the performance is technically excellent, there is a harsh quality to Ayldon’s voice that could at times be positively unpleasant.
The crowning glory of this recording is Valerie Masterson in the role of Yum-Yum - never has there been a better interpretation of ‘The sun whose rays’ and that innate charm and innocence that Valerie displayed on-stage, just oozes out of the speakers. Also present is the remarkable Peggy Ann Jones as Pitti-Sing. This was her only complete G & S recording - so sad as her remarkable portrayals of Mad Margaret, Lady Angela, Iolanthe and Phoebe are consigned to the memory of those of us who were lucky and immensely privileged to see her perform on-stage. Both orchestra and chorus is on top form.
The recording is available as part of the DECCA massive 24 disc box set of G & S and also singly - 473 644-2
With the disbanding of the original company in 1982 the future of the D’Oyly Carte organisation and with it, that of Gilbert and Sullivan seemed
to be in jeopardy. However,
the subsequent passing of Dame Bridget leaving a substantial bequest to the trust allowed for the formation of a new company in 1987. Policy was to employ artists in the main who had not previously appeared with the company. A major effort was made to raise musical and productions levels to a new standard and a decision was made to tour only two or (at maximum) three productions for short periods in any one year.
The company very soon returned to the recording studio, this time with recording company TER and the 1989 production of Mikado was eventually recorded in February 1990.
For these new productions Dr David Russell Hulme was commissioned to prepare new band parts from Sullivan’s original autograph full scores, so the orchestrations heard in this and other New D’Oyly Carte recordings can be regarded as entirely authentic and completely free of all spurious accretions that had appeared over the decades.
The new company was very much an entity and it is difficult to single out performers for specific praise or otherwise. However, the gem of this performance is Eric Roberts as a very north country Ko-Ko. His re-write of the 3rd verse of the ‘little list’ became the benchmark for all subsequent re-writes. But the real star is the orchestra.
TER - CDTER2 1178.
There was much joy in G & S circles when Sir Charles Mackerras (arranger of Pineapple Poll) and a great champion of Sullivan even when such allegiances were extremely unfashionable) started, what was expected to be, a complete series of recordings. Unfortunately the series came to an abrupt halt
for reasons which have never
However, in 1992, Mikado made it to the recording studio and the result was splendid. As with the Glyndebourne series, Mackerras chose to use established opera singers, but here any similarity to the other series ends. Mackerras has an innate understanding of G & S that pervades the whole enterprise and ensures a successful and enjoyable result.
Richard Suart, much disliked in some quarters, much admired in others, is an admirable and cheeky Ko-Ko. Donald Adams, now a mainstay at English National, Welsh National and the Royal Opera, give a vintage performance in the title role. Felicity Palmer is and excellent Katisha.
The whole is supported by the chorus and orchestra of Welsh National Opera who give a performance to the exceptionally high standard that we have come to expect from them. Overall there is a feeling of fun and enjoyment. By the exclusion of the overture and one verse from ‘little list’ the opera occupies just a single disc.
TELARC - CD-80284
This one really is a bit of a joke on my part, but I thought I would include it just for fun.
As is often said - ‘only in America!’
Yes - this is Mikado - in YIDDISH. Believe it or not New York has it’s own Yiddish Gilbert and Sullivan company. This is one of three G & S Operas they have issued on CD (the others being Pinafore and Pirates).
This really isn’t a serious contender for anyone’s collection although it is sung straight, albeit with piano accompaniment, and a tendency by the ladies chorus to join in when it should be men only (“Little List”). However the whole recording has a very definite and irresistible charm all of it’s own.
In total there are 19 tracks representing most of the opera.
Neither the CD nor the packaging has any catalogue number
or recording company.
If you really fancy The Mikado in Yiddish you can order it over the web
The age of the DVD has allowed for the raiding of many a film company’s vault and the result in this case is the re-issue of the 1938 film of The Mikado. (For Chris Webster’s CD release of the soundtrack on his Sounds on CD label, see above). The direction was by Victor Schertzinger and this was one of the first Hollywood blockbuster musicals to be filmed in the new, glorious technicolor. Be prepared - it’s colourful!! It virtually leaps off the screen at you. In fact the colour photography itself was nominated for an Oscar that year.
Amazingly, for a Hollywood adaptation of an existing musical, the score remains practically intact, with only one number omitted entirely. True, “The sun whose rays” gets two bites of the cherry, sung in it’s original position by Yum-Yum, but also making an appearance at the beginning sung by Nanki-Poo, but then - can you get too much of a good thing? Well - yes you can really - G & S with an American accent can pall somewhat, especially when a female number is being sung by a male crooner who I at least associate more with Marx Brothers films. That said, there is far more to enjoy than to denigrate, especially if one takes this as it is intended - a Hollywood take on Gilbert and Sullivan.
Where the film does score is in the inclusion of so many D’Oyly Carte principals and of course, the D’Oyly Carte chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra, all conducted by Geoffrey Toye who was, for a number of years, on the music staff at D’Oyly Carte. The whole is supervised by none other than Rupert D’Oyly Carte.
At the head of the cast, as on stage at the time, is Martyn Green, but most importantly Sydney Granville plays Pooh-Bah, thus preserving on film the performance of an artist who was coached by Gilbert himself. Also preserved is much stage business that is regarded as ‘traditional’ but is none the less valid for that.
All in all, this is a delightful production sure to please if taken
in the right spirit.
Image Entertainment - ID4529JFDVD.
The 1967 film is quite a different kettle of fish. For this, a film crew was taken into a theatre with a specially extended stage and the current D’Oyly Carte production was filmed as seen from the audience.
Sadly, no effort has been made in this technically advanced age to improve the quality of the original 35mm print from which this DVD has been produced and occasionally this results in a rather dark image (see ‘Behold the Lord High Executioner’). However, none of this can take away from the brilliance of a classic post-war golden age D’Oyly Carte cast
at it’s best.
Headed of course by John Reed as Ko-Ko, the absolute brilliance of the artist comes to the fore - he may have had his detractors - but I defy anyone not to be charmed by this performance. And then of course, there is Kenneth Sandford as Pooh-Bah showing exactly why he was considered as streets ahead of his predecessors in these roles. Just look at the gently underplayed by-play between himself, Reed and the delightful Peggy Ann Jones (Pitti-Sing) as they kneel in front of the magnificent and unsurpassed Donald Adam’s terrifying Mikado in Act Two - it really is a master class in stage craft and in how to perform Gilbert.
Philip Potter is a charming Nanki-Poo - a tenor whose contribution to this particular D’Oyly Carte era is often unjustly forgotten. But to crown everything there is the stunning Valerie Masterson and surely the most beautiful and perfect Yum-Yums. No one has ever bettered her performance of “The sun whose rays”. It is so sad that so little of her work is preserved either on disc or on DVD.
The whole is presided over by Isidore Godfrey - thank goodness there is this visual record of his work as it adds a dimension not present on mere audio. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra are also on top form.
British Home Entertainment - no catalogue number but any good store should be able to track it down, or visit Amazon.
I have to say that when this production first appeared in 1982
I was less than enthusiastic.
The original idea had been for the Brent Walker organisation to record all the current D’Oyly Carte productions, but when the government once again refused
any funding for the opera company, thus causing it to disband, Brent Walker had to return to the drawing board.
In the event they recorded 11 operas plus Cox and Box and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with various artists - some occasionally with D’Oyly Carte or wider operatic experience, but more often with established television or musical theatre pedigrees.
In the case of this production the cast is headed by William Conrad (Cannon) in the title role, and despite the forebodings that this naturally creates, he actually does quite a reasonable job. Ko-Ko is portrayed by Clive Revill, 20 years after playing the same role at Sadler’s Wells. The characterisation is the same, sly and manipulative, and it actually works very well.
Strafford Dean is far from the rotund Pooh-Bah that we expect but for all that gives an excellent performance. Kate Flowers proves to be an excellent Yum-Yum, whilst the remarkable Anne Collins cannot be faulted for her portrayal of Katisha.
The lynchpin of the entire series is Alexander Faris who conducts the whole series with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus. Faris, of course, was a regular guest conductor with D’Oyly Carte and the pedigree shows.
The DVD is included in the 11 disc set released by Universal but is also available separately - 822 870-6.
Last but by no means least is another DVD - part of another set - but again, available separately.
The production emanates from Canada - Stratford, Ontario to be precise - Mikado having been recorded in front of a live audience at the Stratford Festival in 1983.
The production is traditionally costumed and reasonably traditionally directed - but the orchestrations have been adapted and there are some unauthorised musical repeats and a number of re-written lyrics (although less than in Pirates or Iolanthe) obviously aimed at the Canadian audience of the day.
Of the three Stratford productions available I have to say that I find this the least attractive - (Pirates has the life of Broadway without losing the traditional touch - Iolanthe is burlesqued in an excruciatingly funny way but for all the right reasons) - but that is not to say that this is in any way other than enjoyable.
It gives the opera a new perspective which is well worth investigation, especially as regards the character of Pooh-Bah, played here as an extremely effeminate young man with an annoying habit of saying ‘yasssssssssseee’ as often as the situation permits. I quite thought that this would become tiresome, but it actually doesn’t - it becomes quite amusing. Another innovation is the exclamation ‘ho Mikado’ accompanied by a low bow every time that character
The DVD is issued by Acorn Media and although it is listed on Amazon as Region 1, in fact it plays quite happily on Region 2 players. AMP 3464.
The DVD is issued by Acorn Media and although it is listed on Amazon as Region 1,
in fact it plays quite happily on Region 2 players. AMP 3464.
The above does not represent all the available recordings of The Mikado currently on the market, either as highlights or virtually complete - to list and review all would be an impossible task. However, I hope that I have included all the important complete releases and if anyone is looking for a recording listed or not listed, but is having difficulty obtaining it, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do my best to assist.