An evening of undiluted pleasure and stimulation. Although the famous partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan, brought together by the impresario Richard DOyly Carte and extremely profitable for all three, finally came apart in 1890 over a disagreement over the cost of a carpet for the Savoy Theatre, internal friction and jealousy were always present. It was exactly this rivalry, however, which generated their highest flights of invention, of which the sublimest expression is The Mikado, inspired by a Victorian craze for japonaiserie and here at the Accademia Filarmonica Romana performed to perfection by the Carl Rosa Opera Company of London.

The serious music of Sullivan, for which he wished to be remembered, including such works as the musical drama The Martyr of Antioch (1881), is completely forgotten, apart from the hymn tune Onward Christian Soldiers, and almost no one could today name even one of Gilberts numerous plays and poems, highly popular in his lifetime. But their combined works still thrive, and none more so than The Mikado.

Their jealousy was partly social, Sullivan being knighted in 1883 while Gilbert had to wait until 1907, and partly their extreme differences in character; Sullivan was very extravagant, while Gilbert was very careful with his money, provoking on one occasion the sally: "My cook gets eighty pounds a year and gives me kipper. Sullivan's cook gets five hundred pounds a year for giving him the same thing in French." Financial interest got them together again in 1893 and two more works resulted, Utopia Unlimited and The Grand Duke, but the spark had gone.

The simple sets at the Teatro Olimpico in Rome conjure up an instantly recognizable but enchanted Japan, as do the costumes, and the orchestra, under Richard Balcombe, plays with the greatest lightness and verve. The singers are experts in the field, well endowed with all the vocal and theatrical skills and wit which are essential to the success of such dramatic thistle-down.

Gareth Jones, as the Mikado himself, has sung the role for decades, but is as fresh and entertaining as a tyro. Henry Moss, Nanki-Poo, sings with most honeyed of tones. The Ko-Ko of Simon Butteriss was quite brilliant, deservedly earning uproarious laughter and deafening applause for the fantastical and courageous verbal cadenza in his little list aria, in which he lampoons various of the more questionable members of the present Italian government, right to the very, very top, in words that are risqu to say the least. Anne Bourne was a delicious Yum-Yum, and both Maria Jones as Pitti-Sing and Gaynor Keeble as Katisha brought mezzo voices of the greatest class to their roles, while Melody Jane Faulkner was enchanting as Peep-Bo.

Absolutely not to be missed..

The Carl Rosa Opera Company of London..Accademia Filarmonica Romana at the Teatro Olimpico, Piazza Gentile da Fabriano 17, Rome. Tel. 06326 5991

24 November 2004 Further performances 25, 26, 27 November at 21.00. Also 26 and 27 November at 10.30 for schools.

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