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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Opera Review: The Sword's Upside-Down

The Collegiate Chorale takes on The Mikado.
by Paul Pelkonen
Amy Justman, (Peep-Bo) Kelli O'Hara (Yum-Yum) and Lauren Worsham (Pitti-Sing)
on their way home from school. Photo by Erin Baiano © 2012 The Collegiate Chorale.
Huge vases of cherry blossoms stood at either end of the Carnegie Hall stage on Tuesday night. The plain white plaster panels at the back of that famous stage were adorned with a projection of Mount Fuji. The Collegiate Chorale was in place, behind the American Symphony Orchestra.

Then came the announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that the part of Pooh-Bah, scheduled to be sung by Jonathan Freeman, will be sung by Jonathan Freeman."

This bit of wit was the perfect introduction to Tuesday's endearing, if sometimes sloppy performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, the witty work that skewered Victorian British society by moving it to the absurdly named Town of Titipu in W.S. Gilbert's version of Japan.

Under the direction of Ted Sperling, both Chorale and Orchestra delivered a fizzy account of the overture and first scene. Mr. Sperling chose fast tempos, driving the famous themes forward. This set up the entrance of Nanki-Poo (South Pacific star Jason Danielly.) He emerged, instrument in hand from the brass section. But instead of the usual Japanese shamisen, Mr. Danielly carried the instrument from the libretto, a serviceable second trombone.

He was soon joined by a trio of fine comic baritones, well known on Broadway. Mr. Freeman (Roger Debris in The Producers)  as Pooh-Bah, Steve Rosen (Spamalot) as Pish-Tush and the energetic, loose comic Christopher Fitzgerald (Wicked) as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. In a loose black hipster suit, an enormous, shabby top hat and an (upside-down) katana, Mr. Fitzgerald cut a memorable figure as the former cheap tailor. More importantly, his comic energy drove the show, even if he occsionally flubbed a line.

In W.S. Gilbert's libretto, the Three Little Maids enter late in the first act. Here, they fared better than the men. Kelli O'Hara (also a star of South Pacific) was a strong Yum-Yum, bringing warmth and self-regard to "The Sun Whose Rays." City Opera veteran Lauren Worsham was even better as Pitti-Sing, stealing hearts with a flash of an eye and a whistling air. Amy Justman had less to do as Peep-Bo, but brought able support.

Katisha's entrance is always a brilliant piece of theater: Sir Arthur Sullivan's parody of several Wagner heroines (Brunnhilde, Kundry, Isolde) all at once. Victoria Clark brought the requisite voice, a full-powered dramatic soprano and stage presence to Nanki-Poo's would-be fiancĂ©e. She threw herself into the part of the vengeance-seeking diva, at one point decking Mr. Fitzgerald during "There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast." To his credit, he got up, recovered, and they finished the merry duet. 

The last character to enter in The Mikado is the title character, given the appropriate pomp and circumstance with a genuine Japanese chorus accompanying his procession. Chuck Cooper was comic and magesterial, evoking a psychotic glee in "A more humane Mikado" and letting out a giggle of pleasure as he listed both crimes and punishments. The finale proceeded smoothly, whipped up to a bubbling frenzy as the world of topsy-turvy righted itself and all was well in the Town of Titipu.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.