Last week Owen and I visited Japan. Not for no tsunami business... no we went and stayed in the relative comfort of the London Coliseum - yes, confused reader, we went to see the English National Opera's THE MIKADO...and it's only taken me 25 years to see Jonathan Miller's production!
I'm not the world's biggest Gilbert and Sullivan fan to be honest but Owen had a hankering to see a 'proper' production so away we went to take our place in the Dress Circle with what I suspect was a core G&S/Coliseum audience. More than once my attention was diverted from the action on stage by my neighbours singing along under their posh breaths.
It was all very odd to be in an audience that obviously knew the piece backwards and who laughed uproariously at every laugh line - even when it wasn't funny.
It was always watchable - thanks in no small part to the luxurious 1920s set design of the late Stefanos Lazaridis - a mixture of warm creams and white - the witty and stylish costumes designed by the wondrous Sue Blane and the ever-busy choreography of Anthony Van Laast, recreated here by Stephen Speed.
I didn't realise until I opened the programme that the wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo was played by Alfie Boe who is this year's opera~pop crossover and who is about to start a short run in that graveyard of the musical spirit LES MISERABLES.
It is nice to report that he was very pleasing on stage with a nice baffled air and fine voice. He was partnered by Sophie Bevan as Yum-Yum who while a little colourless in acting sang a lovely version of what I know as "The Moon And I" but turns out to be called "The Sun Whose Rays".
The show was also graced with fine performances from ENO veteran Richard Angas as The Mikado and Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, both of whom have played the role countless times down the years. Suart's Groucho Marx posturings grew a bit stale by the final curtain but what he did do he did with great gusto.
His updated version of the "I have a little list" song which included such possible candidates for execution as the Bercows and Prince Andrew had members of the audience gasping with delight - some people really need to get out more.
But here we come to the reason I was gnawing my knuckles through most of the show. I foolishly assumed that with it being the English National Opera and all that the most basic requirement would be to sing clearly.
Wrong. More often than not great swaths of the score were rendered incomprehensible either down to singers who had neither the breath control for the patter numbers or who seemed more at ease just singing the note rather than the word. It wasn't long before I remembered why I can't abide opera singers.
Every time the awful Anne-Marie Owens started honking and twittering as Katisha I found myself replaying in my mind Louise Gold singing the role in Mike Leigh's film TOPSY TURVY and how she nailed it perfectly. Yes I *know* that was a film and this was live but it has taught me that if I go further in Gilbert & Sullivan's canon then I'll wait until they are presented with actors who can sing and not opera-trained voices trained to just make a noise along with the music.
In fact seeing the show has spurred me into buying TOPSY TURVY and here are Shirley Henderson, Dorothy Atkinson and Cathy Sara giving us a delicious version of "Three Little Maids From School Are We" - watch and learn ENOers....