A thoroughly modern 'Mikado'

ENO's Twenties-set revival should be just the thing to galvanise the troubled company
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The Independent Culture

When English National Opera launches its umpteenth revival of Jonathan Miller's Twenties-set Mikado, the company's recent traumas will become history, for this show has irresistibly healing charm. With the mighty Richard Angas in the title role, and the equally mighty Frances McCafferty as his sexually voracious daughter; with Bonaventura Bottone as the wand'ring minstrel, and Richard Suart as the Lord High Executioner, the world will at last be put to rights. And with Pitti-Sing, we shall get another chance to savour the art of ENO's brightest star-in-the-making, Victoria Simmonds.

Simmonds's voice has a lovely evenness, from top to bottom, but one doesn't think of her in terms of sound: she's essentially a stage presence, with a remarkable capacity to mutate to suit the moment. She is a bewitching Dorabella in Cosi, and an entrancing Rosina in Barber of Seville. She makes a convincingly gauche Cherubino, and as Ascanius in The Trojans transforms herself into something creepily butch.

When I ask her how she does it, she tells me she finds such instinctive matters hard to articulate, so I settle instead for an account of background. Her Staffordshire origins are still audible in her voice, and it's no surprise that her first ambition was to be an actress. As a vicar's daughter, it was natural for her to sing in church, where even at 11 she had an alto timbre. She took lessons and starred in local shows: "I began to have ambitions, but had no idea how I was going to realise them."

The answer was a four-year course at the London College of Music, followed by three years knocking about on the fringes of musical theatre with a group she led. She also sang in a Christmas show for a Norfolk steam-engine museum - and the doves with whom she now shares the stage as Second Lady in the ENO Magic Flute are the very same ones she shared the stage with there.

She studied for two more years at the Guildhall, where she picked up two big prizes, and then, through a series of happy accidents, she made her progress via Glyndebourne ("getting shagged in a lift in Flight") to ENO. In her spare time, she gives recitals - often charity ones for her father's church - but she also dreams, and not only of singing Carmen: "My burning ambition is to sing Maria in West Side Story, and I'd love to do My Fair Lady."

Could she manage the different styles? "If I'm in the car and I've got the Sugababes on, I don't sing along in an operatic way. There's nothing I hate more than a musical recorded by opera singers in an operatic style. If you're going to be a crossover artist, you've got to really cross over."

Simmonds is currently being pestered to make a jazz record, "but I'm only going to do it if I can do it properly". And she's biding her time, developing her stamina, before scaling the operatic heights.

'The Mikado', The Coliseum, London WC1 (020-7632 8300), in repertory, 3 April-6 May