REVIEW: The Mikado (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

     
     

Lyric creates a perfect holiday gift

     
     

01 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko center with Lyric Opera Chorus THE MIKADO DAN_4344 c Dan Rest

   
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
   
The Mikado
   
Written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Gary Griffin
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
through Jan 21  |  tickets: $48-$217   |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I’ve found it, the perfect Christmas gift! It is Lyric Opera Chicago’s radiant, lush, sophisticated and gorgeous production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. One could even put a big red bow on it, the same color as the massive, velvety red flats that act as imperial Japanese doors to the proscenium of Lyric’s stage. They are perfect—as is the whole of Mark Thompson’s design for the production. How else to describe his set and costumes’ color palate but as a visual seduction that amplifies and fulfills Arthur Sullivan’s opulent score. Christine Binder’s lighting molds pure magic from Thompson’s rich golds, pinks, purples, reds, and sky blues, chartreuse 15 James Morris as THE MIKADO RST_9172 c Dan Restand wood tones. Updating the operetta to early 1920s Japan is also an inspired change that refreshes and illuminates good old G&S for today’s audience.

Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and stage-directed by Gary Griffin, Lyric creates the kind of sumptuous dream that brings forth incredibly powerful musical moments, offset with sprightly comedy that makes the whole enterprise deceptively light and airy. That Davis and Chorus Master Donald Nally would draw gorgeous performances from their superlative cast may already seem a fete accompli to Lyric audiences; but that Griffin tops off the whole luxurious feast with the cherry and whipped cream perfection of precisely timed comedy is the real celebration of the evening. Clearly the cast is having too much fun and their enjoyment of W. S. Gilbert’s material is infectious.

Should this whole opera thing not work out, Neal Davies has a future in comedy. His Ko-Ko, a common tailor unexpectedly raised from near-execution (for the grave offense of flirting) to an appointment as Titipu’s Lord High Executioner, captures the wry mischievousness and cheerful nervousness of the arriviste who never expected to arrive. Of course, it helps to have one fabulously tacky hairpiece (wigs by Richard Jarvie) to clearly signal hopeful insecurity. Ko-Ko temporarily thwarts the romantic chance of the charmingly jejune Nanki-Poo (Toby Spence), who has journeyed to the village of Titipu to woo Yum-Yum (Andriana Chuchman), Ko-Ko’s ward and prospective bride-to-be.

      
07 Katharine Goeldner Andriana Chuchman Andrew Shore Emily Fons THE MIKADO RST_8395 c Dan Rest 10 Stephanie Blythe as Katisha THE MIKADO DBR_4064 c Dan Rest
06 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko THE MIKADO RST_8169 c Dan Rest 12 Toby Spence as Nanki-Poo Andriana Chuchman as Yum-Yum Neal Davies as Ko-Ko THE MIKADO RST_9010 c Dan Rest
   

In fact, in true G&S style, charmingly jejune is how one could describe the young leads of the show. It’s sounds cliché but, then, G&S revels in clichés–Spence and Chuchman make a darling, lyrical couple that clearly hasn’t got a gray cell to share between them. One relishes the heartfelt silliness of their romance, while becoming unfailingly reinvigorated at the prospect of romance succeeding—even though one can hardly say that it is ever really threatened. Meanwhile Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah (Andrew Shore) and Pish-Tush (Philip Kraus) regale the audience with the absurdities of their respective posts as Titipu’s administration. Shore doesn’t miss a hilarious beat pointing up Pooh-Bah’s ridiculous attachment to his pedigree or his decidedly mercenary approach to civil service. Together they crisply whip off “I am so proud,” wherein Ko-Ko realizes that, under the orders of the Mikado (James Morris), he must find someone in Titipu to execute within a month or it could be his head, once again, on the “big black block.”

Happily, Nanki-Poo arrives to do himself in and Ko-Ko persuades him not to squander his death in wasteful suicide—rather, do your patriotic duty and let the state kill you instead. He promises a month of married happiness with Yum-Yum in return for Nanki-Poo’s timely and well-celebrated execution. Just when it seems as though our young lovers have a chance at some limited happiness, Katisha (Stephanie Blythe) arrives in full force, seeking Nanki-Poo, who is actually the son of the Mikado and her betrothed.

Let me say that Lyric brought the big guns when they picked Blythe for this role. Her mezzo-soprano dominates the stage and one couldn’t ask for a more humorous or more resplendently-voiced ruthless virago. Tell us, how does it feel to have all that power, Ms. Blythe? Because Griffin’s staging allows her glorious full play, whether she is reaching operatic heights with the chorus with “Oh fool that fleest my hallowed joys!” and “For he’s going to marry Yum-Yum” or outshining the arrival of the Mikado in “Miya Sama.”

All that can be said of James Morris’s turn as the Mikado is that it’s too bad he doesn’t have more numbers. “A More Humane Mikado” is always an anticipated delight and Morris acquits himself with privileged dignity, polish and grace, while amusingly forbearing Katisha’s constant upstaging. The Mikado’s arrival precipitates the need for an execution and Ko-Ko decides to let Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo marry while faking Nanki-Poo’s execution on the death certificate. When Katisha discovers Nanki-Poo’s name on the certificate, his true identity as the Mikado’s son is revealed to all and Ko-Ko once again finds he is headed for the big, black block unless he can seduce Katisha into forgetting all about Nanki-Poo and marry him.

16 Neal Davies as Ko-Ko Stephanie Blythe as Katisha THE MIKADO RST_9339 c Dan RestThis is not to say that Davies’ excellent rendering of the classic “Tit-Willow” depends upon a tree, but Thompson’s set design brings home the song’s comic impact by balancing it against Yum-Yum’s enchanting declaration of self-love and Katisha’s misery at losing her chance at marital bliss. Under the radiant pinks of a tree festooned with cherry blossoms, Chuchman effortlessly delivers “The Sun Whose Rays;” the same tree is theatrically brought into the scene with twisted and barren branches against a backdrop of mournful indigos and purples when Katisha sings “Alone, and Yet Alive!” Then the same barren tree remains under which Ko-Ko stands to sing a made-up account, of a birdie committing suicide over blighted love, to seduce Katisha.

It’s a moment that simply and elegantly unites all three as it gently and reassuringly spoofs the heart in its outlandishly unreasonable passionate expectations.

It is a bit of silliness that is pure genius and that is what Lyric’s Mikado pulls off so well throughout the whole production. The show will send you into the cold winter night, your ear alight with its happy tunes and a joyful heart against the cares of this world. And what could be a better Christmas gift than that?

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

17 Andriana Chuchman Toby Spence Neal Davies, James Morris Stephanie Blythe THE MIKADO RST_9395 c Dan Rest

Running Time: 2 hours, 54 minutes. In English with projected English texts

 

 

     
     

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REVIEW: Marriage of Figaro (Lyric Opera)

This marriage is a flawless, fun farce

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Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:

Marriage of Figaro

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conducted by
Sir Andrew Davis
Stage directed by
Herbert Kellner
Projected English supertitles by Francis Rizzo
at
Civic Opera House through March 27th (more info)

By Katy Walsh

figaro01Figaro wants to marry Susanna. Marcellina wants to marry Figaro. Bartolo wants to marry the Countess. The Count wants Susanna. The Countess wants the Count. Cherubino wants everybody.  Arias of lust love are in the air!

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Marriage of Figaro, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A four act opera buffa (comedy) performed in Italian with projected English translations. A sequel to The Barber of Seville, the opera is set in the late eighteenth century. Figaro and Susanna want to marry. As servants of the Count, the union must be authorized by him. In addition, the Count may choose to invoke the custom of ‘having the bride’ before giving her away. The Count is not the only one interfering with Figaro’s marriage. Debts and betrayals have followed him from his The Barber of Seville days. Through a comedic series of tricks and twists, love eventually conquers all.

Throughout all four acts, this cast sings and plays well together. It’s like watching a group of friends setting up good natured pranks to teach each other a lesson. Leading the playful spirit, Danielle De Niese (Susanna) is an adorable, lively sprite with pitch-perfect, comedic timing. Kyle Ketelsen (Figaro) delivers a solid bass-baritone performance as the ultimate cocky player. Anne Schwanewilms (Countess) laments the loss of her husband’s affections in a gorgeous rendition of “Porgi Amor”, and later vows to regain his love in “Dove Sono”. Within the frivolity of the frenzy of multiple charades, her arias are the quiet moments of true clarity and sadness of love lost. The Countess describes her husband as ‘modern: faithless, willful, not so much jealous, as vain.’ Mariusz Kwiecien (Count) embodies that description while – being the brunt of the shams – struggling at the same time. Kwiecien delivers his own spectacular aria “Vedro, mentr’io sospiro” with promises of vengeance to the pranksters. Joyce DiDonato (Cherubino) is a woman playing a boy sometimes playing a woman. She’s hilarious with her portrayal of a youth; a slave to his strong lustful infatuations. In a smaller role, Andrea Silvestrelli (Bartolo) makes his presence memorable with his booming bass singing. His aria “La vendetta” is magnificent. In particular, in one sequence, Silvestrelli squeezes his huge, rich voice through a series of rapid notes. Amazing.

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago has chosen to close its 2009-2010 season with a warhorse. Even to new opera goers, this Mozart’s masterpiece has familiar pieces. The overture and a few of the arias are used in movie scores to enhance themes of multiple plots colliding or love loss. The Lyric has cast it perfect and – under the guidance of Sir Andrew Davis at the baton – Marriage of Figaro hits all the right notes for high spirited high-jinx.  Highly recommended!

From the first note of the overture to the standing ovation, Marriage of Figaro is a flawless, fun farce!

Rating: ★★★★

 

Running Time: Three hours and forty-five minutes includes a thirty minute intermission

Note: Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais’ play La folle journee, ou Le marriage de Figaro (1784).

View (2010-02) Marriage of Figaro - Lyric Opera

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