For its single, full-length production of the 2003-2004 season, the Annapolis Opera opted for a romp on the lighter side, with the Gilbert and Sullivan satirical masterpiece The Mikado.
Premiered in New York City and Queen Victoria's London in 1885, this frothy operetta spoofing feudal Japan (and feckless functionaries everywhere) is one of the great delights of the musical stage. When voices and acting are good enough to do full justice to the genius of the score, it's hard to imagine a more congenial night at the opera.
Fine voices and hilariously drawn characters abounded at Maryland for the Creative Arts on Friday night when the local company brought Nanki-Poo, the love-struck son of the Japanese emperor, and his beloved Yum-Yum together despite the best efforts of Ko-Ko, the bumbling Lord High Executioner of Titipu, who sought the young girl for himself.
Sonorous voices of both genders were everywhere, most notably baritone Samuel Hepler as Pooh-Bah, Titipu's graft-guzzling jack-of-all-political-trades; Peter Campbell as a commanding emperor; and Troy Clark who, in addition to chewing every bit of scenery in sight as a screamingly funny Ko-Ko, presented a fine voice to boot.
If tenor Keith Hudspeth's Nanki-Poo seemed a tad undercharacterized amid all this fast vocal company, such is the lot of Gilbert and Sullivan tenors (even adept ones) who must warble earnestly while others get the patter and the laughs. (He gets the girl, though.)
Soprano Mary Anne Barcellona was a pleasant choice as Yum-Yum, though one has to conclude that the creators dished up far more interesting things for their heroines to sing in H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance.
Catrin Davies and Maria Dolan Barnes contributed effectively as Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo (ah, the names!).
The scene-stealer on the feminine side was Madeleine Gray as Katisha, the Mikado's "Daughter-in-Law-Elect" who was as brassy and fussy as could be before succumbing to the desperate charms of poor Ko-Ko, who must (literally) marry her or die.
The male character realm was dominated by the aforementioned Hepler, who was delightfully toady as Pooh-Bah, and by Clark's Ko-Ko, who elicited gales of laughter every time he opened his mouth.
With a floppy yet wildly energetic body posture and a voice that ran the gamut from Lord Olivier to Gomer Pyle, Clark's Lord High Executioner was a character to behold.
This Mikado's least impressive moments came courtesy of an under-rehearsed orchestra and some uncoordinated changes of tempo that saw conductor Ronald Gretz, his singers and his players flailing away in different time zones.
This lack of polish extended to the men of the ensemble, who sounded fine but spent too much time gazing about, watching their feet and not connecting with the audience. But with Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Katisha on the loose, who cared for long?