Lyric Opera’s crowd-pleasing ‘Mikado’ sounds lovely, yet suffers from an identity crisis

Yup. That above is a production photo from Lyric Opera’s Mikado. Here’s another one:

If you’re familiar with the Gilbert and Sullivan work, you’ll note that this is one singular-looking production. Where typically we enjoy the ridiculous juxtaposition of traditional kabuki-style Japanese garb with British satire and sensibilities, renowned Chicago director Gary Griffin has staged this production in a westernized 1920s Japan. Sure. Why not?

Well, I’ll tell you why not. When you take a bunch of Caucasian opera singers with British accents and put them in traditional western 1920s outfits, we’re essentially somewhere in 1920s Britain where everyone strangely has Japanese-sounding names. It’s not ironic or satirical or clever, but nonsensical and confusing. Sure, it’s a visually handsome, art-deco-y production (with touches of Asian inspiration, such as a stunning cherry blossom tree in act two by set designer Mark Thompson), but it just didn’t work for me. This is a Mikado with an identity crisis.

However, the music and performances really shine through this visually confused production, kicked off by a brisk, but not rushed, performance of that well-known overture, led by conductor Sir Andrew Davis. Toby Spence, making his Lyric debut, and Andriana Chuchman make a fine romantic pair as Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, and sing their roles gloriously. Neal Davies as Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner) more than fulfills his role’s obligations of making the audience both hate and love him (mostly love), and Wagnerian bass-baritone James Morris in the title role gives some much-needed heft to the zany proceedings.

And then there’s the audience favorite. Stephanie Blythe is simply having a field day as villainess Katisha. I just wish G&S could have expanded her brief second act moment, “Alone, and Yet Alive.” A difficult request to honor, I know. This was my first time seeing the world-renowned mezzo-soprano, and I can’t wait to see her in something again, soon.

Oh, and my mom went with me. And she ADORED it.

“The Mikado” plays through Jan. 21. Go here for dates, times and tickets >

10 thoughts on “Lyric Opera’s crowd-pleasing ‘Mikado’ sounds lovely, yet suffers from an identity crisis

  1. Have you seen the Eric Idle production of The Mikado? It’s been years since I have, but I think it’s a similar look. Maybe that’s what they were going for.

    1. Nope; haven’t seen that production. However in ’83 Lyric did a production that had Nanki-Poo dressed as Elvis.

      1. I only have one CD of hers, but I love it- the Handel/Bach one. I love the whole Verdian-mezzo singing Baroque/Classical music type deal… I bet the Wesendank Lieder are gorgeous.

        I’ve not seen her perform other than in recital in NYC, but I’m looking forward to seeing her in Mikado!

    1. Let’s invite her out for drinks! Though, she won’t be able to sing songs from Les Miz with us because we wouldn’t want to her to be intimidated by our vocal skillz.

  2. Design and sets have nothing to do with the piece; stage direction is poor; barely
    community theater treatment of principals and chorus.

    Show is saved by great musical values; especially Stephanie Blythe, Andrew Shore
    and our own Philip Kraus. James Morris is by far the weakest vocally and theatrically!
    Great conducting from Sir Andrew Davis

    1. Thanks for commenting, Paiul!

      To be honest, I’ve never seen a Lyric opera production where the chorus has really been directed. Rather, they’ve been wrangled on the stage and given some basic bits of action to do.

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