Three little maids from school all set for Cork Opera House

As the Leeside venue gets ready for a concert performance of The Mikado, Cathy Desmond gives the lowdown on the ever-popular operetta.

Three little maids from school all set for Cork Opera House

As the Leeside venue gets ready for a concert performance of The Mikado, Cathy Desmond gives the lowdown on the ever-popular operetta.

September brings a feast of operatic activity for Cork music lovers with two 19th century classics coming to platforms in Leeside theatres. While the touring production of The Tales of Hoffmann stops off at the Everyman, Cork Opera House keeps faith with its proud operatic tradition with a concert performance of one of the most popular operettas by Offenbach’s British contemporaries, WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s The Mikado.

A little bit of history...

When Victorian impressario Richard D’Oyly Carte wanted to create an English school of comic opera to rival the Parisian operettas of Offenbach, his instinct told him that pairing this unlikely duo might do the trick.

Sullivan’s catchy tunes and brilliant arrangements paired with Gilbert’s witty lyrics proved a winning combination that has had an enduring appeal. Director Mike Leigh placed The Mikado at the heart of his homage to the G&S legacy with his 1999 film, Topsy Turvy.

The ninth of the duo’s 14 Savoy operas was written at a time when English trade with Japan was on the increase, and Japanese culture was a source of fascination for their audience. Like many G&S operas, The Mikado satirises authority. Setting it in a far-off land allowed them to be much more direct in their mockery of the establishment.

What’s the story?

It’s the tale of Ko-Ko, the newly-appointed Lord High Executioner of the town of Titipu. When news arrives that the Emperor of Japan (The Mikado) is coming, Ko-Ko assumes that this can only be to ascertain whether he’s executing enough people, and he has to come up with an elaborate plot to keep hold of his job — without actually executing anyone. But ‘if some day it should happen that a victim must be found” he has his little list of potential victims who “never would be missed” .

Playing Ko Ko for the first time in his career is Joe Corbett who has come up with new verses for Ko Ko’s patter song in the time honoured tradition, although the baritone is coy about divulging any spoilers from his updated list.

Seen it before?

The production will have a high nostalgia value for Cork music lovers. There will be some in the audience on September 15 who will remember the 1976 silver jubilee performance of The Mikado by the Cork Gilbert and Sullivan Group at the Opera House under the legendary James N Healy.

The last performance of The Mikado at COH was in 2005 when the Carlo Rosa Theatre Company visited on their Irish tour.

It will be an auspicious anniversary also for Cork Operatic Society who mark 100 years of musical activity by providing the chorus for the production.

Many of their regular soloists join the cast. Cara O’Sullivan plays Katisha, Emma Nash is Yum Yum and Julian Tovey returns to Cork to play Poobah.

Why a ‘concert’ performance?

Lovers of theatrical spectacle may chafe at the simpler style of the concert format which dispenses with sets and costumes and choreography but there are a number of advantages to a pared-down production.

Not least is the cost. Opera is a notoriously expensive art form.

According to CEO of Cork Opera House Eibhlín Gleeson, the cost of presenting a concert performance comes in at about a sixth of presenting a fully staged version of an opera. One person’s sassy cutting edge production can be another’s shambles. Without the distractions of directorial details, the focus falls more sharply on the music and libretto.

For this presentation, Cork Opera House Orchestra under director John O’Brien will be placed on stage with the singers, all the better to enjoy Sullivan’s delightful instrumental introductions.

Words, music, nostalgia and a platform of top-class singers promise to make this a night to remember.

The Mikado concert performance, Cork Opera House, Saturday (Sept 15)

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