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IU Opera Theater: The Mikado

The IU Opera Theater’s summer offering is Gilbert and Sullivan’s "The Mikado or the Town of Titipu." It’s a delightful comedy set in a fictitious Japan which somehow seems to have lots of the foibles and peculiarities of Victorian England .

Titipu has a remarkably compact administration. Pooh-Bah, Robert Brandt, holds the offices of First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander in Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Archbishop of Titipu, and Lord Mayor, both acting and elect, all rolled into one. Though from time to time the Pooh-Bah’s various roles do indeed check up on one another, it’s definitely the "unitary executive." The only other official of Titipu is Ko-Ko the rather hesitant Lord High Executioner, Jacob Sentgeorge.

Into this little town comes a wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo, in search for Yum-Yum, one of the "three little maids from school" with whom he has fallen in love. To Nanki-Poo’s chagrin, he learns that Yum-Yum is engaged to Ko-Ko. Ko-Ko, it seems is being sorely pressed by the Mikado to actually carry out an execution. He needs a victim to keep his job and strikes a bargain with Nanki-Poo to trade a month of blissful marriage to Yum-Yum in exchange for his head on the block.

This simple plan appears to be a compromise worthy of comparison with other examples of world class statesmanship. But, things, as they will, do get a bit complicated. Nanki-Poo is actually the heir to the throne of Japan, the son of the Mikado and on the run from engagement with the Mikado’s daughter-in-law elect, Katisha.

Guest conductor Ramond Harvey led a well paced performance with the orchestral rhythms, colors and harmonies very much in support of the singing. Supertitles were missing and were missed. The large chorus’s diction in the opening couple of numbers was exemplary, but words became harder and harder to come by as the evening went on. The principals did a fine job of getting both sung and spoken dialog across, but I missed about a quarter of the cleverly updated Ko-KO’s "little list of society offenders" and a bit more of the Mikado’s calendar of those for whom he would "let the punishment fit the crime."

Saturday night’s audience at the IU Musical Arts Center gave the cast a standing ovation with surges of applause for the comedy of Jacob Sentgoeorge as the ambivalent Lord-High Executioner, Ko-Ko, the ardent young lovers Joshua Whitener and Megan Radder as Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, Erin Houghton as Yum-Yum’s sympathetic girl friend Pitti-Sing , Jennifer Feinstein as the formidable and ye t sympathetic Mikado’s daughter-in-law elect Katisha and Gregory Brooks as the Mikado himself.

The complex of sets came from the Orlando Opera and the kaleidoscopically colorful costumes were from Malabar Limited. Stage direction with plenty of choreographed percussive fans and graceful umbrellas was by Vincent Liotta.

The IU Opera Theater’s production of "The Mikado" continues with performances Friday and Saturday at eight.

You can find an interview with "The Mikado"’s Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum on our Arts Interviews page .

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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