Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review - Edmonton Opera Presents: The Mikado

A new review from Sound and Noise - University of Alberta Students on Music - February 4, 2012

First and foremost I want you, the reader, to know that I am by no means a connoisseur of opera and am only partially acquainted with classic works such as Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida or Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and most of my conceptions of the format come from Andrew Loyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera. For all intents and purposes, this is my first real outing at the opera, and it was a pleasant experience.

The Mikado, as performed by the Edmonton Opera, takes place in a modern day feudal Japan where no one seems to know exactly what tone is implied by the mix of vicious empirical rule and 21st century pop culture . This aspect of The Mikado is odd, but wonderfully comical. Imagine an act where an emperor enters wearing what looks to be a brightly colored ceremonial suit inspired by ancient samurai armor and sunglasses while riding a Segway to center stage. The characters read decrees from the Mikado on iPads. They discuss betrothal, executions by beheading and then pose for pictures enthusiastically and brandish double fingered peace signs while they do it. It is all marvelously surreal and the cartoonish characters add to that vibe with loads of humor. Unfortunately, the performance I attended was filled with elementary school children so most of the jokes fell flat (save for some of the more slap-stick antics and a reference to Justin Bieber.)

The story involves an executioner, named Ko-Ko, with a dilemma. He must find someone to execute before the end of the month, or he will be executed by his own hand for the crime of flirting. Luckily, Ko-Ko finds a young rhythm guitar player in the depths of despair ready to commit suicide because his one true love, named Yum-Yum, is betrothed to Ko-Ko. Ko-Ko makes a deal that the musician can marry Yum-Yum, and be happy with her for a month if he will let Ko-Ko execute him publicly at the end of that month. It all seems to be going so well until some of the fine print of this oddball society’s laws are revealed, as well as some secret identities, and before you know it the majority of the cast is looking for ways to escape the chopping block. The plot is all very convoluted and nothing seems to make any sense, but that’s part of the fun. This piece of opera does not look to be taken too seriously. It’s a comedy, borderlining on parody.

The best example of such parody is the character Ko-Ko. He has a funny habit of breaking the fourth wall, referring to his stage managers and orchestra members. He knows he’s in an opera and subject to the fate that the opera has for him. He is not quite so aware as the players in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but he is a tad meta. Every character seems to have a little bit of a quirk. Especially Ko-Ko’s proud solicitor who has traced his family line back to the upper-class portion of primordial soup. He holds nearly every respectable position imaginable, including, oddly enough, the premier of Alberta and head of the RCMP.

In fact my only real complaint with The Mikado is the frequent references to Canadian and Albertan politics, in spite of the opera taking place in Japan. It seemed a tad like pandering to me. That and the unfortunate under-use of the opera’s lead female, Yum-Yum. She hit a few high notes here and there, but the focus was primarily on her male co-stars.

-Eric T. Behr


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