WRITTEN BY W. S. Gilbert
LIBRETTO BY Arthur Sullivan
DIRECTED BY Robert Herriot
STARRING John Avey, Andriana Chuchman and Scott Scully
WHEN Saturday, Feb. 4, Tuesday, Feb. 7 and Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE Jubilee Auditorium (11455 87 Ave.)
HOW MUCH Starting at $50 at ticketmaster.ca
It may be more than a century old, but The Mikado is moving into the future. For the second production of the 2011-2012 season, Edmonton Opera is making Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera into a fresh, modern production.
Set in the town of Titipu, The Mikado — meaning Emperor of Japan — is a comic opera about young lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum and their desire to be together. But as love stories go, things are inevitably messy, and as more characters come into play, the situation between the two only gets increasingly complicated.
The biggest twist on the opera is what director Robert Herriot calls “fusion production” — a more modern take on The Mikado. Japanese street fashion, the main inspiration behind the costumes in the production, serves as a jumping-off point for integrating modern culture and technology into the opera along with traditional Japanese elements.
“(The Mikado) was the perfect vehicle to update,” Herriot says. “The company felt that we should try a new direction and asked me if I was willing to undertake it, and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ It’s a different way of thinking for me … If you see The Mikado traditionally, it’s just kimono after kimono after kimono… it’s the same after a while. This way, we were able to start from the ground and really make it an original piece.
“That’s the beauty of this kind of piece,” adds soprano Andriana Chuchman, who plays Yum-Yum. “You can update it tastefully.”
While The Mikado is first and foremost a comedy, Herriot and Chuchman note the layers beneath the laughs, with elements that poke fun at the societal hierarchy of the Victorian era and a light-hearted examination of death.
“It’s not a deep opera,” Herriot acknowledges. “However, that being said, I think there are many, many facets to certainly this production. There’s great physical comedy in this piece and there’s great acting comedy. There are also some really heartfelt moments that are quite serious and that deal with things like despair, great inner sadness and loneliness. I think those are very poignant moments in the piece that are very important, because they actually give us the whole spectrum of human emotions.”
Like the entire opera, examining naïve teenage girl Yum-Yum reveals layers to her seemingly shallow personality. Chuchman, who has performed the opera a number of times before, says that while Yum-Yum is not a really deep character, that doesn’t mean she’s dumb.
“I don’t like to think of her as a ditz at all,” she says. “She doesn’t just jump into things. She has a sense of self-worth, and she knows that she can use her looks to get ahead … She will jump on opportunities and use everything she has to get ahead. She’s smart in that sense, but she’s young, so (naïveté) comes with the territory.”
Gilbert and Sullivan’s trademark outlandish comedy combined with Edmonton Opera’s updated, vibrant staging, offers entertainment and accessibility in the seemingly stuffy world of opera. With the addition of modern technology and Edmonton in-jokes to the 19th-century opera, this production makes the opera stage a little less intimidating.
“It’s not brain surgery,” Herriot says. “It’s accessible because it’s something new. And even if you absolutely hate the music and you hate the story, at least you get to look at this incredible world, which is kind of cool.”