The Mikado at Lyric Opera of Chicago Review – Like Flowers that Bloom in the Spring

Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman),Nanki-Poo(Toby Spence), Ko-Ko (Neal Davies), The Mikado(James Morris) and Katisha (Stephanie Blythe)

With dark cold short days, the opportunity to escape to warmth and light and cheer is welcome.  So I felt that “escaping” to Titipu, Japan when attending Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s The Mikado, was a wonderful way to briefly escape winter and see “The flowers that bloom in the spring”. Gary Griffin is the stage director for this new production.  I left with songs in my head that have been reverberating for days, beautiful colorful visions and a sense of renewal that says somewhere “All’s right”.

Katharine Goeldner, Andriana Chuchman, Andrew Shore, and Emily Fons

If American Commodore Matthew Perry had not led an expedition to open diplomatic and commercial relations between Japan and the United States (Kanawaga Treaty in 1854), opening Japan to the world, The Mikado may not have come to be.  Japan's interactions with the world from that point on have had influences in all areas even to the present.

Nanki-Poo (Toby Spence) and Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman)

Japonism became the rage even affecting music. In 1885 Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, the best and most popular of the Gilbert and Sullivan's repertoire was thought to be inspired by the Japanese Native Village exhibition in Knightsbridge, London even though the exhibition did not open until after the opera was already in rehearsal. Sullivan used a version of the song, Ton-yare Bushi by Ômura Masujiro in The Mikado.

Nanki-Poo (Toby Spence), Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman) and Ko-Ko (Neal Davies)

Set in the town of Titipu where the tailor Ko-Ko (bass-baritone Neal Davies) since being appointed Lord High Executioner, hasn’t executed anyone. His ward, Yum-Yum (soprano Andriana Chuchman), whom he plans to marry, has fallen in love with a traveling musician, Nanki-Poo (tenor Toby Spence, debut). He is, in fact, the Mikado’s son, and has escaped the court to avoid the attentions of an intimidating older noblewoman, Katisha (mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe). Ko-Ko learns of a decree from the Mikado (bass-baritone James Morris) that, unless an execution occurs within a month, the city will be reduced to the rank of a village, which would spell disaster. Neither the noble lord Pish-Tush (baritone Philip Kraus) nor the Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah (baritone Andrew Shore), will volunteer to be executed. Complications occur with the arrival of the Mikado, accompanied by the ever formidable Katisha.

Entering-Katisha (Stephanie Blythe) and The Mikado (James Morris)

We first meet Andriana Chuchman  (Yum Yum) in “Three little maids from school”, possibly the catchiest entrance tune in all of operetta. Preparing for her marriage, she is very believable as the “most beautiful woman in the world” and her voice is equally beautiful.  Stephanie Blythe has to be the most perfect Katisha ever, not only her amazing voice, but also her presence that tells of one who knows she is not easy to look at, but at the same time has so much inside to offer.  As she expresses who she is, alone on the stage she imbues the role of Katisha with power and depth.  All the voices were a joy to hear and the choreography was charming.

Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman) preparing to be the most beautiful woman in the world for her wedding

Although my companion was looking for the traditional costuming and staging of The Mikado such as that seen the film about the making of The Mikado, Topsy Turvy, I completely enjoyed the simpler, cleaner look of the set and costume designs by Mark Thompson, which move the time frame to 1922.  In some ways the simplicity allowed for more attention to the songs.  And the words, which are so complex and musical in the way they scan, they needed focus. It was wonderful to really see what the words are in the  projected “English” titles.  Even though I could understand the words, there were so many of them.

Enter Ko-Ko (Neal Davies)

Lyric’s music director Sir Andrew Davis  conducts The Mikado Dec. 6-Jan. 9; Philip Morehead will assume the podium for performances Jan. 11-21. Gary Griffin directs the elegant new production stylishly set in the mid-1920s; sets and costumes are designed by Mark Thompson (debut). Christine Binder is lighting designer. Lyric Opera’s only previous presentation of The Mikado was in 1983 (staged by Peter Sellars).

The Mikado (James Morris)

This is a warming, wonderful, fanciful tale delightful for all ages.  It is a perfect way to introduce younger people to opera.  The messages for the English audience for whom it was written about their “topsy-turvy” government at the time and the words continue to ring true today, When Japanese royalty visited England in 1907, The Mikado was briefly banned from performance in Britain so as not to offend the Royal visitors. In American occupied Japan following World War II, a production of The Mikado was seen by the emperor’s brother, Prince Nobuhito Takamatsu, who was reported to have smiled through out.  Get tickets immediately and like Prince Takamatsu, you, too, will smile and laugh during the entire production and do watch for the surprises.

Ko-Ko (Neal Davies) and Katisha (Stephanie Blythe)

Photos: Dan Rest

Ko-Ko (Neal Davies), Pooh-Bah (Andrew Shore) and Nanki-Poo(Toby Spence)

Call for Tickets: sales stop 4 hours prior to curtain but tickets may still be available.  Call our Ticket Office at 312.332.2244 for the latest availability.

At their marriage, Yum-Yum(Andriana Chuchman) and Nanki-Poo (Toby Spence)

Wednesday  January 5, 2011  2:00 PM /     
Friday  January 7, 2011  7:30 PM /       
Sunday  January 9, 2011  2:00 PM /       
Tuesday   January 11, 2011  7:30 PM/      
Thursday  January 13, 2011  2:00 PM /  
Saturday  January 15, 2011  7:30 PM /       
Friday  January 21, 2011  2:00 PM       
Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 41 minutes

In English with projected English texts

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