Church-hall opera companies are notoriously uneven in quality, both among and within. The last opera I had seen at Regina was a production with eager young singers and tired, pedestrian conducting. I left at intermission, which occurred about the time the opera should have been over. With Sunday afternoon's Mikado we again had eager young singers, but we at least had attempts at tempi that might get us home before curfew. I say attempts, because there were far too many times when the orchestra and conductor, José Alejandro Guzmán, had widely varying views on the matter. I'd tempted to say the superannuated violin section had a mind of its own, but there wasn't a lot of unanimity within the section, aside from its determination to spurn the conductor's attempts to creating ensemble. I'd mention tuning, particularly in unison/octave passages, but then again, I'd better not.
I'm very fond of The Mikado, and it's hard to ruin it for me. As I say, overall I found the production charming. (I will spare you a synopsis of the typically convoluted plot.) I am not particularly well versed in traditional D'Oyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan style, or in traditional Japanese style, but I came away satisfied with what I saw. The design featured "many a vase and jar, many a screen and fan", as well as hair, makeup, and costuming that all looked church-hall-theatrical-authentic-enough, and the direction by Linda Lehr featured enough Japanese-style gesture and movement to consistently suggest the town of Titipu wasn't another Brooklyn neighborhood, without being overwhelming. My opera-going companion was a Japanese native, and she approved heartily of the production.
Typically with a small opera company one hears singers of varying quality. Some of the singers are fresh out of music school, working hard to get stage experience and credits on their resumes. Some are people who have careers in other fields but like to continue singing. Many are somewhere in between. I liked most of Sunday's singers. I found the women's chorus utterly charming, and I don't think I had complaints about the singing of any of the women. Joan Callaghan and Bethany Richards, as Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, sisters of the betrothed Yum-Yum, sang well. Yum-Yum herself, Samantha Guevrekian, sang beautifully and acted the part of clever ingenue well.
Some of the best singing and acting came from the men, and also some of the worst. My highest praise goes to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, sung by David Tillibrand. This is a role traditionally given to a comic actor who can handle patter songs--songs with fast-moving comic lyrics. Mr. Tillibrand's bio-blurb lists a lot of acting credits, and his experience and training were quite evident in Sunday's performance. I must say I laughed out loud many times at his stage antics and delivery of dialogue. His greatest moments (and choosing one is like trying to determine the best flavor of Ben & Jerry's) occurred in the second act, as Ko-Ko
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that Bryce Smith, who sang the Mikado himself, is a dear friend and colleague in other musical settings. It is not my prejudice that leads me to say he was delightful, however, but rather his performance. Although, once again, the orchestra made it difficult to distinguish his patter, his characterization was campy and regal at the same time. (Don't say it! I know you want to!)
Jay Gould was a very funny Poo-Bah, and my only complaint is that his well-conceived and delivered dialogue was just too slow.
In last fall's Hansel and Gretel at New York Lyric Opera (It's Hansel Season Again, or Hansel and Regretel) Laura Smith was the Witch cover who was forced to perform on just a few moments' notice, and seemed ill prepared for that. I will say she acquitted herself with Katisha, daughter-in-law elect of the Mikado. In Katisha's earnest moments, Ms. Smith sang beautifully, and in her fierce moments, she acted...er...fierce.
I can not say enough about the lovely young dancer Yoko Yamashita, whose graceful contributions both as dancer and as comic foil in many scenes contributed immeasurably to my enjoyment of the show. For the dancing, it was clear she'd had training in traditional Japanese dance, and for the comic touches I again credit director Linda Lehr and the young lady's fearless acting.
There are two more performances of The Mikado at Regina, on Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13. (Sunday's cast performs again on March 12.) I think it's worthwhile going to see one.