DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
published: April 2, 2012
The UNF Opera Ensemble under the Direction of Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki and the UNF Orchestra conducted by Dr. Simon Shiao presented a staged concert version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” for four performances from March 30 to April 1 in the Lazzara Performance Hall on the campus of the University of North Florida.
“The Mikado” and “The Pirates of Penzance” are the two most popular operettas to be penned by Gilbert and Sullivan and were record setters when they debuted in the late 1800s. Three of the songs in the “The Mikado” with Gilbert’s lyrics and Sullivan’s music are well-known worldwide: A Wandering Minstrel,” “Three Little Maids,” and “Tit-willow.”
The operetta was set in Japan for a couple of reasons. Everything Japanese was the rage in England at the time. And Gilbert and Sullivan delighted in criticizing the British government and aristocracy, and the class system, and were able to do so freely by placing the work in an exotic foreign land.
We won’t even attempt to summarize the bizarre plot where barbaric imperial decrees are based on arbitrary whims. For example, the Mikado (Japan’s Emperor) played by bass-baritone Emorja Roberson, has some very harsh rules concerning perpetrators of flirting, who are to be punished by beheading, and the fate of the wives of those executed, who must be buried alive.
We are happy to report that everyone does live happily ever after, but this musical farce takes many twists and turns before the final curtain. If you missed this excellent production, be sure to read to the end where we will tell you of another opportunity to experience the music and comedy of future Gilbert and Sullivan productions.
The full orchestra of approximately thirty musicians was center stage. While there were no sets in this staged version, the light design, by Richard Sanford, provided changing background colors and oriental landscapes based on Japanese prints. The actors wore contemporary clothing, except for some of the dancers who wore black tights and leotards, and used colorful props that included large umbrellas and flowing red and yellow banners.
The Dual Critics enjoyed the production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul” presented by the UNF Opera Ensemble last year and looked forward to this production. We were made aware of this show by a participant, UNF sophomore Jake Rothman whose career we have followed closely since his high school days at Bartram Trail. Jake played the leading comic baritone role of Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner of Titipu, in a very animated way, with excellent humor and with vocal finesse.
For advice, Ko-Ko relied on Pooh-Bah, The Lord High Everything Else performed by baritone Lamar Boyle who also had a number of ridiculously comic moments. Ko-Ko had intended to marry one of his wards, Yum-Yum played by soprano Hannah Meloy but she is really in love with Nanki-Poo who is disguised as a wandering minstrel but is really the son of the Mikado and played by tenor Shaun Adams.
Others in featured roles included baritone Jordon Rutter as Pish-Tush a nobleman, soprano Holly Kwaak as Pitti-Sing and soprano Jessica Menke as Peep-Bo, both also wards of Ko-Ko. The final character is Katisha who is described as an unattractive lady in love with Nanki-Poo who winds up agreeing to marry Ko-Ko. This role was played by contralto Clair LeGrand who certainly had the voice for the part but could hardly be described as unattractive.
One of the roles was triple cast, with Mario Alomnte and Bryan Hayes as Nanki-Poo in other performances. Others playing featured roles included Christopher Randolph (Pooh-Bah), Brittany Fouche (Yum-Yum), Kerra Simmons (Pitti-Sing) and Meghan Mizell (Peep-Bo)
Although this was a concert version, Choreographer Alexia Adcock-Stanford created movement and life using the energetic performance of the excellent dancers. Dancers included Hannah Morgan, Brittany Schweikert, Natalie Schweikert, Katherine Pitre, Ida Uffelman and Alexia Adcock Stanford.
Also contributing to the excellent staging were a number of students who were the Chorus of School Girls, Nobles, Guards and Coolies performed by Brianna Sparklin, Brittany Santos, Juan Ocharan, Matheus Coura, Ray Woconish, David Herndon and Harrison Newton.
Since the UNF Opera Ensemble was established by Dr. Biernacki, the Head of Applied Voice at the UNF Department of Music, it has garnered international fame, appearing in 2010 in the European Summer Opera Program in the Czech Republic and presenting Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” In 2011 the ensemble performed again in the program with “The Marriage of Figaro.” This summer, in 2012, the group will once again return to the Czech Republic, to perform “Cosi Fan Tutte.”
The Opera Ensemble presented a delightful evening of Gilbert and Sullivan at UNF, with excellent voices, wonderfully performed music and fine dancing, and we are looking forward to future performances.
If you missed your chance to see “The Mikado,” you will have two more chances to enjoy the melodic magic of Gilbert and Sullivan. Jacksonville University will stage a full version of “The Gondoliers” on April 12, 13, and 14. Seating is general admission; tickets are $5.00 for students, $7.00 for seniors, and $10.00 for everyone else.
From June 8 through June 23, Theatre Jacksonville will present “Hot Mikado”, a musical based on the original Mikado but set in the 1940’s, with the music re-orchestrated music. The story remains consistent with the original.