In an age when the internet frequently loses its collective shit over mooted film remakes or sequels to old favourites, it’s refreshing to see opera take a more mature approach to revivals: Jonathan Miller’s take on Gilbert & Sullivan classic The Mikado debuted in 1986 and has now commenced its 14th run at the English National Opera.
Returning to the role that he has made his own since the late 1980s, Richard Suart is once again a magnificent Ko-Ko, the Japanese village of Titipu’s tailor-cum-Lord High Executioner whose farcical entanglements form the basis of The Mikado’s plot. A perennial highlight of this production — and one of the possible reasons behind its remarkable longevity — is the infamous ‘Little List’; compiled by Suart afresh each year, it points out those from modern society who, should they succumb to a terminal case of capital punishment, would “not be missed”. The latest collection runs the gamut from the obvious (all the main political parties) to the notorious (Jeremy Clarkson, Volkswagen and a certain pig) to the personal (an Italian opera house that apparently still owes Suart a five-figure sum).
Filling the large boots (and even larger fat suit) of the late Richard Angas as the eponymous leader is Robert Lloyd. Angas originated the role in this production and continued in it until his death in 2013, aged 71; his successor evokes the legendary bass’ sinister charm while adding a joyful swagger all of his own.
But does this take on The Mikado still have the same appeal after all this time?
The set design and direction have not significantly changed since its last run so, Little List aside, repeat value is limited. It’s a hammock of a show with the high points in the first and last half-hours compensating for the noticeable sagging in the middle. Having said that, the production values are still exemplary, as are the singing and acting in the main. But, like the Christmas turkey, there is only so much of Miller’s Mikado one can expect audiences to come back to after the initial feast.
On press night, there were noticeable gaps in the stalls signalling perhaps a lack of interest in what should be a nailed-down money maker in the ENO’s repertoire. It shouldn’t take an internet storm for musical director Mark Wigglesworth, the venue’s own Mikado to see that it could be time to take a risk and go for a fresh approach; as the Japanese say, “Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu”: if you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub.
The Mikado continues at the English National Opera, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES, until 3 February.Tickets £12-£125.
The Mikado will also be broadcast live from the London Coliseum to cinemas across the UK on 3 December as part of ENO Screen.