Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

07/03/2017 - 11/03/2017

Opera House, Wellington

25/02/2017 - 02/03/2017

ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

14/02/2017 - 19/02/2017

Production Details

The Mikado is without doubt Gilbert & Sullivan’s most famous comic opera.

While set in the imaginary Japanese town of Titipu, the satire is directed fairly and squarely at the British and their love of bureaucracy.

This stunning production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic masterpiece transports us to modern-day Japan where Harajuku fashion, mobile phones and Hello kitty rule.  Filled with vibrant colour, sharp blades and even sharper wits, The Mikado was hailed as ‘laugh out loud stuff,’ which ‘fizzes with charm’ by reviewers of the Australian season.

Accompanied by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Ensemble. 

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Auckland 14-19 Feb, ASB Waterfront Theatre

Tue, 14 Feb 7.30 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre 
Wed, 15 Feb 7.30 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre 
Thu, 16 Feb 6.00 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre 
Fri, 17 Feb 7.30 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre  
Sat, 18 Feb 2.00 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre  
Sat, 18 Feb 7.30 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre  
Sun, 19 Feb 5.00 p.m.Venue: ASB Waterfront Theatre  

Wellington, Opera House 25 Feb – 2 march
Sat, 25 Feb 2.00 p.m.Venue: Opera House  
Sat, 25 Feb 7.30 p.m.Venue: Opera House  
Sun, 26 Feb 5.00 p.m.Venue: Opera House 
Tue, 28 Fe b6.30 p.m.Venue: Opera House 
Wed, 1 Mar 7.30 p.m.Venue: Opera House  
Thu, 2 Mar 7.30 p.m.Venue: Opera House  
Christchurch 7-11 March, Isaac Royal Theatre

Tue, 7 Mar 7.30 p.m.Venue: Isaac Theatre Royal
Thu, 9 Mar 6.30 p.m.Venue: Isaac Theatre Royal
Fri, 10 Mar 7.30 p.m.Venue: Isaac Theatre Royal 
Sat, 11 Mar 2.00 p.m.Venue: Isaac Theatre Royal 
Sat, 11 Mar 7.30 p.m.Venue: Isaac Theatre Royal  

Amelia Berry -- 
Anna Dowsley -- Pitti-Sing
Barbara Graham -- Peep-Bo
Helen Medlyn -- Katisha
James Clayton --The Mikado
Jonathan Abernethy -- Nanki-Poo
Byron Coll -- Ko-Ko
Andrew Collis -- Pooh-Bah
Robert Tucker --Pish-Tush

Theatre , Opera ,

2.5 hours

Mikado a ravishing riot

Review by William Dart 16th Feb 2017

Did New Zealand Opera sense rumblings of political discontent while rehearsing its rather jolly production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado?

Earlier this month, a Facebook thread, prompted by the blunt challenge of “Is it ok to do The Mikado?” drew several days of responses. There was much chastisement, chiding and accusations of cultural misappropriation, a phrase which might have fitted rather neatly into a Gilbert lyric.

There was disapproval of the use of yellowface (when white performers play Asian characters) and a heroine being burdened with the suggestive name of Yum-Yum. One contributor pronounced there was no point in rescuing this opera [sic] likening it to a gross racist comic strip. More constructive comments were posted on creating a dramatic framework to “explain” Gilbert was satirising the English and not the Japanese. [More]


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Pleasant confection could have more tang

Review by Michael Hooper 15th Feb 2017

It is impossible to leave the theatre without Sullivan’s most memorable tunes echoing around your head, and the reprise will undoubtedly continue next morning. It’s hardly surprising, then, that this Victorian cash cow for the originating D’Oyly Carte Opera Company had the second longest run of a theatre musical after its 1885 premiere stretched to 672 performances. It remains the most frequently performed of the Savoy operas and judging by box office reports in Auckland the production is bound to help the national opera company’s kitty. 

Arguably an operetta, it can almost be considered a stage musical, as there is a significant amount of dialogue which, in the NZ Opera production, is handled with aplomb and assurance by the principals. This show breaks new ground for the ASB Waterfront Theatre, being its debut for a non-amplified musical, the consequence of director Stuart Maunder’s decision to rely purely on the voices, orchestra and acoustics to balance and deliver the sound. 

Given his pronouncement that this show is all about the words, especially “words that you’d never meet in your ordinary life”, and, as Mikado James Clayton told RNZ’s Eva Radich, “the art is the language”, it is surely the clarity of Gilbert’s words that is a litmus test of this production. For the most part the test is passed with flying colours. 

On the colour subject, the pink and pastel palette reminiscent of a Japanese stationery store, complete with Hello Kitty, adds to the frothy frivolity of this story about an imaginary monarch of a remote period, to use the words of W.S. Gilbert.

The silly but imaginative plot is quickly outlined. The Mikado (emperor) has decreed that decapitation is the sentence for non-married couples convicted of flirting. His son, Nanki-Poo, has fled from the court to escape the unwelcome clutches of elderly Katisha. Disguised as a musician, he falls in love with Yum-Yum who is betrothed to her guardian Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner in her home town of Titipu. The holder of almost every other office is Pooh Bah. As weddings and beheadings are planned, the Mikado and Katisha arrive and a tangle of alternative truths becomes resolved in a happy ending. Long story short.

The appearance of Helen Medlyn as Katisha suggests Kabuki (where the make-up illustrates the “caricature of a face”) and the nonsense names are mock Japanese, but otherwise, it is a loosely Japanese-themed fantasy – the setting for which even the librettist couldn’t really explain. It obviously offered an exotic Asian theme, popular at the time, for the serial parody of British bureaucracy that was such a fertile ground for G&S.

This is a re-staging of Stuart Maunder’s 2012 Opera Queensland production which looks back to previous Australian and British productions, making use of an Australian creative team. In 2004, he told the Sydney Morning Herald that “you have to throw yourself into it,” so let’s go to curtain-up in Auckland and do exactly that.

From the outset, it is clear that the 15-piece string orchestra under Isaac Hayward has mastered perfectly the Savoy Theatre sound, thanks to the flexibility and talent of members of the Auckland Philharmonia. They really validate the acoustic design of the new Waterfront theatre with its excellent balance of reflective and absorbent components.

Into this, comes the male chorus, which, with the female ensemble, sings with precision, clarity and glee while negotiating and moving the screens and tall shoji boxes that comprise the set. In number and amplitude, they match the orchestra. Next to appear is the mellifluous and agile Jonathan Abernethy as young Nanki-Poo, played as a rather wet Clark Kent type who never has any convincing opportunity to become Superman. He flows comfortably over the notes. 

It is when Robert Tucker arrives as the official Pish Tush that we start to sense the benefit of a true opera company staging a musical, his assuredness complemented by the suitably sneering and elevated dramatic delivery of seasoned bass-baritone and comic, Andrew Collis (as Pooh-Bah). Both gentlemen know their craft and own the stage and the theatre.

Next, however, comes the casting masterstroke: Byron Coll as Ko-Ko. While not a trained singer, he is an audience winner who can handle the music, but, more importantly for the role, has the comic chops and the delivery to reach right across the pit. His first daunting task is to deliver the “little list” of society offenders who can “kiss my fist.” As expected, the “orange tinted Führer” and his Mexican wall are present, and the topical references are received well. Hopefully, they will be further sharpened as the production tours. 

Another star turn is the Three Little Maids, one of whom is Yum-Yum, the object of Nanki-Poo’s affection. In the role, Amelia Berry is coquettish and effects a lovely chemistry with Jonathan Abernethy, but it is in Act Two, in ‘The Sun whose Rays’ that her amazing voice development from three years at the Manhattan School of Music shines through. Her voice is on a logarithmic arc of acquiring maturity and roundness. 

Of the remaining maids, Australian rising star Anna Dowsley instantly shows the textured, deeper mezzo voice that stands her out and is propelling an international career. Barbara Graham holds her own against such gifted competition. 

The most naked test of articulation is the Big Black Block trio, which calls on Byron Coll to match the experience of Collis and Tucker, landing in unison on the teeth-tingling final verse – and he makes an excellent effort. Overall, his unamplified accomplishment in projection and audience connection is one of the production’s real wins. In singing terms, another highlight is the ‘Madrigal’ of Tucker, Abernethy and two of the maids; a sheer delight of melody and vocal elegance.

Much loved mezzo Helen Medlyn is relatively restrained as the aged Katisha, resisting the temptation for too many melodramatic embellishments, as indeed does James Clayton playing a more humane Mikado. The orchestra falls short supporting the drama of his entry, despite a noble effort by percussionist Erik Renick.  Both principals present more believable and warmer characters than some other manifestations of their roles. Mr Clayton displays a mastery of the dialogue and again shows his command of the stage. Miss Medlyn, rather than rising triumphant over all, brings a sympathetic tone to Katisha’s jilted creature – until she finds a new ‘prey’ and springs deliciously into a preying mantis attitude on a park bench. 

The anachronistic Englishness of some expressions like “how-de-do” and “Deuce take the law” might puzzle younger audience members, but with a wordy work so much of its time, significant updating would require a greater appetite for risk than this production shows, and somehow “bugger the flowers of spring” does jar a touch, so perhaps the cautious approach to modernisation is wise.

The stagecraft is exemplary (one faulty dagger excepted, but that was dealt with positively to great audience amusement). Sensitive lighting creates depth from darkness and shows off the detailed and playful costumes effectively. The sets move smoothly, and there is space to spare on the wide Waterfront Theatre stage which gives an airy feeling to those who are confident or experienced enough to occupy it. The cell phone joke that was used judiciously and hilariously in Don Giovanni wearies a little here, a short umbrella number barely echoes the energy choreographed in La cenerentola, and “the business” is sometimes bitsy and overly busy. 

Of course, NZ Opera does not have the resources of, say, the English National Opera, but it has often demonstrated more invention, which I am sure could add more tang. Bringing to bear the inherent wealth of skills of a full opera company, especially one with the laudable artist development programme of NZ Opera, can add artistic heft to the honey of a musical, and perhaps a fully fresh creative approach might have added a touch more spice to this very pleasant confection. 


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