Comedy and kimonos in ‘The Mikado’

Jerusalem’s Encore Theater Company presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic opera.

December 27, 2017 21:42
4 minute read.
Comedy and kimonos in ‘The Mikado’

BIG IN Japan: Katisha (played by Sandy Cash) reprimands Yum-Yum (Aviella Trapido) in the first act finale of ‘The Mikado.’. (photo credit: BRIAN NEGIN)

Acclaimed theater duo Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular opera The Mikado has come to Jerusalem.

Produced by Encore! Educational Theatre Company, the opera will take to the stage from today through January 4 at the Hirsch Theater in Beit Shmuel. This will be Encore’s 10th-anniversary production, with a cast of 50 and a full orchestra accompaniment.

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Director Robert Binder sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss social satire through opera, making a production from 1885 relevant to today, and putting it all together.

How did you become involved in this production?

That goes back half a century.

I’ve been in involved in Gilbert and Sullivan productions since I was in university. We put on two of their operas each year and subsequently assisted in many productions. We’ve been putting on Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Jerusalem. We were doing one opera a year and then started doing other shows. Now we’re back to Mikado, which is Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular opera. I dare say that there has not been a night since 1885 that there has not been a performance of the Mikado somewhere in the world.

What is it that you love about Gilbert and Sullivan in particular?

The wit of Gilbert is incredible, and the melodic genius of Sullivan...

together, [they] produce works that critics have commented seem to spring from one mind. They were so much in harmony that they produced immortal works.

For those who don’t know anything about this opera, what can you tell them?

It’s a comic opera; a social satire of British society with wide application to any society that has a democratically elected government, along with traditions, foibles and corruption.

These are all the things that make up human nature. It’s an extremely witty and melodic opera that appeals to everybody.

How do you find that the Jerusalem audience receives opera?

A lot of our audience members have grown up with Gilbert and Sullivan, from America, South, Africa, England, or Australia, and have a great love for it. Audiences respond very well. In fact I’ve had people tell me that our Gilbert and Sullivan productions are the best things we do. We tend to be very traditional in our approach, but always with an eye to current events and the current situation in Israel. I think our shows are very appealing and have packed in audiences in the past, and I hope they will again.

When you say that you keep an eye on current events, how does that influence you as a director?

It influences the shows I choose and in particular, in the text, there are always places where one can introduce local references or current jokes. This opera is no exception.

There are several places where, even in very traditional productions in England, they always refer to current events and people, so that the satire is always sharp and relevant.

Can you give an example from this show?

The traditional place is when Coco, the main character, has a list of social offenders whom he would like to put on his list to be executed. There’s room for the names [of], or references to, current politicians. He doesn’t say them outright by name, but through pantomime or gesture he makes it very clear to the audience who he’s talking about. As Coco says, “I’ll have no difficulty in finding plenty of people whose loss would be a distinct gain to society at large.”

It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun with this.

Absolutely, it’s marvelous fun. I hope that audiences will find it fun. I know that the cast has as well.

What has the process been like putting this together?

It’s a very intricate process. We have a large cast of about 50 with principals and chorus, and all ages, from young children to seniors. Putting together the dialogue scenes and the dances, as well as the costuming, with a full orchestra, which is unusual for an Israeli production, has been a tremendous amount of work. The orchestration is a very important part of the opera and they’re very impressive.

So putting all of this together is sort of like a three-ring circus that has to be presented in one ring. It’s a challenge, but we love it.

What is the message with which you hope audiences will leave?

I think they will find that they’ve experienced an evening of innocent merriment; light humor with a bite to it at a very high professional level that captivates visually and aurally.

We hope to see everybody going out whistling the tunes and smiling from ear to ear, which is desperately needed in the sometimes tense times in Jerusalem.

That’s what good theater does I think. It allows us to become enraptured in another story and another place and time.


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