Jonathan Miller’s resolutely non-Japanese flapper-era production of The Mikado is now 25 years old, but feels as fresh and sparkling as ever - and the current English National Opera cast is one of its strongest ever. The linchpin, as he has been for many years, is Richard Suart’s brilliantly comic Ko-Ko, his hotly anticipated topical “little list” of candidates for the chop this time including Pippa Middleton and Lord Leveson - “I’ve got him on my list, in case I’m on his list!” Newcomers Robert Murray and Mary Bevan are a well-matched, fresh-voiced pair of young lovers, delightfully at home in the idiom, and Yvonne Howard excels as the hideous Katisha - funny but also sympathetic, and ravishingly sung. The redoubtable Richard Angas returns as a wonderfully bluff Mikado. The music fizzes along under David Parry’s assured and affectionate direction, gems such as “The sun, whose rays” treated with the seriousness they deserve. It is a treat to hear Sullivan’s glorious score rendered by one of our finest opera orchestras.
Since its record-breaking original 1885 run, The Mikado has remained the most popular of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas. Miller’s version, though clever and terrific fun, is not the last word, and its hyperactive staging does not always respect the music. It could happily run for another 25 years, but ENO should seriously consider quitting while it’s ahead, to reflect the opera’s timeless genius through another director’s prism - or, even more courageously, offer London audiences the chance to experience the magic of other evergreen Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations such as Patience or Iolanthe.