The Opera Initiative at Augusta University is presenting Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado at the Maxwell Theatre from Friday, Feb. 9 — Sunday, Feb. 11.
Although the operetta has a rocky history, including being banned for a time in both Japan and England, The Mikado has been one of the most performed musical theatre pieces in history since its premier in the late 1800s.
Based in the fictional town of Titipu, The Mikado focuses around the character Nanki-Poo and his love for a young woman named Yum-Yum. Written as an operetta, a shorter, often lighter, opera with spoken dialogue, The Mikado is a satirical look at Britain’s politics of the time.
One of the reasons the piece was chosen was its ability to satirize the British aristocracy while not becoming disrespectful towards Japanese culture. A second reason centered on what voices were in the department.
“I chose this [The Mikado] because of our women,” said Tonya Currier, director of the Opera Initiative and a professor in the Department of Music. “Because they can sing it, and because we have a non-traditional student who has the older, more mature voice to play Katisha. So, knowing that we had all of that, I thought ‘why not?’”
The female leads may have been the inspiration, but the male leads lend their own distinctiveness by all four of them being alumni of the university. In addition, the community choir has helped to completely showcase the talent here in the CSRA.
“The interaction between the students and the community is phenomenal, and they have a great time,” Tonya said. “They learn from each other.”
Not only were the voices here, but the time was right. This performance will be the first Gilbert & Sullivan work performed in over 20 years at Augusta University, Currier said.
Made possible primarily through donors, The Opera Initiative tries to bring in some professional talent to work with the students and help with the performance. For The Mikado, the Opera Initiative has brought in Carroll Freeman, well-known operatic tenor, opera director and music educator to be stage director.
“Part of their mission is to bring in people who are professionals in this business of voice, who most of these individuals would never have the opportunity to work with,” Currier said. “And, you know, I see the improvement and the desire from our own students. At first it’s a little daunting, but they rise to the occasion.”
The Opera Initiative is made up of faculty here at Augusta University, and is focused on the care and longevity of the young singer, Currier said.
Caring for the voices is a big part of The Opera Initiative and speaks to the interdisciplinary benefits of Augusta University.
Along with voice instructors, students in the department have access to health professionals who are part of The Opera Initiative including a speech therapist, a nutritionist and an ear, nose and throat doctor.
“This is a program that does not exist at the undergraduate level anywhere else in the United States,” Currier said.
The first show is Friday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Maxwell Theatre, with two follow up shows on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Get your tickets online or call Maxwell Theatre Box Office at (706) 667-4100.