2019 is our 60th anniversary and in keeping with recent tradition, it has been decided that our show will be The Mikado (the one that started it all in 1959) which will be directed by Nona Gray with Simon Shirley as Musical Director. This will be performed at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich from 8 - 11 May 2019. ENOS has previously performed this show six times in sixty years.
The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations. It opened on 14 March 1885, in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, which was the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Before the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing the opera.
The Mikado remains the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions. The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history.
Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. Gilbert used foreign or fictional locales in several operas, including The Mikado, Princess Ida, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, to soften the impact of his pointed satire of British institutions.
Gilbert and Sullivan's opera immediately preceding The Mikado was Princess Ida (1884), which ran for nine months, a short duration by Savoy opera standards. When ticket sales for Princess Ida showed early signs of flagging, the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte realised that, for the first time since 1877, no new Gilbert and Sullivan work would be ready when the old one closed. On 22 March 1884, Carte gave Gilbert and Sullivan contractual notice that a new opera would be required within six months. Sullivan's close friend, the conductor Frederic Clay, had suffered a serious stroke in December 1883 that effectively ended his career. Reflecting on this, on his own precarious health, and on his desire to devote himself to more serious music, Sullivan replied to Carte that "it is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself". Gilbert, who had already started work on a new libretto in which people fall in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge, was surprised to hear of Sullivan's hesitation. He wrote to Sullivan asking him to reconsider, but the composer replied on 2 April 1884 that he had "come to the end of my tether" with the operas:
1895 Poster: Wikipedia
..."I have been continually keeping down the music in order that not one [syllable] should be lost.... I should like to set a story of human interest & probability where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, & where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one the words would be of similar character."
Gilbert was much hurt, but Sullivan insisted that he could not set the "lozenge plot." In addition to the "improbability" of it, it was too similar to the plot of their 1877 opera, The Sorcerer. Sullivan returned to London, and, as April wore on, Gilbert tried to rewrite his plot, but he could not satisfy Sullivan. The parties were at a stalemate, and Gilbert wrote, "And so ends a musical & literary association of seven years' standing – an association of exceptional reputation – an association unequaled in its monetary results, and hitherto undisturbed by a single jarring or discordant element." However, by 8 May 1884, Gilbert was ready to back down, writing: "am I to understand that if I construct another plot in which no supernatural element occurs, you will undertake to set it? ... a consistent plot, free from anachronisms, constructed in perfect good faith & to the best of my ability." The stalemate was broken, and on 20 May, Gilbert sent Sullivan a sketch of the plot to The Mikado. It would take another ten months for The Mikado to reach the stage. A revised version of their 1877 work, The Sorcerer, coupled with their one-act piece Trial by Jury (1875), played at the Savoy while Carte and their audiences awaited their next work. Gilbert eventually found a place for his "lozenge plot" in The Mountebanks, written with Alfred Cellier in 1892.
In 1914, Cellier and Bridgeman first recorded the familiar story of how Gilbert found his inspiration:
Gilbert, having determined to leave his own country alone for a while, sought elsewhere for a subject suitable to his peculiar humour. A trifling accident inspired him with an idea. One day an old Japanese sword that, for years, had been hanging on the wall of his study, fell from its place. This incident directed his attention to Japan. Just at that time a company of Japanese had arrived in England and set up a little village of their own in Knightsbridge.
The story is an appealing one, but it is largely fictional. Gilbert was interviewed twice about his inspiration for The Mikado. In both interviews the sword was mentioned, and in one of them he said it was the inspiration for the opera, although he never said that the sword had fallen. What puts the entire story in doubt, moreover, is Cellier and Bridgeman's error concerning the Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge: It did not open until 10 January 1885, almost two months after Gilbert had already completed Act I. Gilbert scholar Brian Jones, in his article "The Sword that Never Fell", notes that "the further removed in time the writer is from the incident, the more graphically it is recalled." Leslie Baily, for instance, told it this way in 1952:
A day or so later Gilbert was striding up and down his library in the new house at Harrington Gardens, fuming at the impasse, when a huge Japanese sword decorating the wall fell with a clatter to the floor. Gilbert picked it up. His perambulations stopped. 'It suggested the broad idea,' as he said later. His journalistic mind, always quick to seize on topicalities, turned to a Japanese Exhibition which had recently been opened in the neighbourhood. Gilbert had seen the little Japanese men and women from the Exhibition shuffling in their exotic robes through the streets of Knightsbridge. Now he sat at his writing desk and picked up the quill pen. He began making notes in his plot-book.
The story was dramatised in more or less this form in the 1999 film Topsy-Turvy. However, even though the 1885–87 Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge had not opened when Gilbert conceived of The Mikado, European trade with Japan had increased in recent decades, and an English craze for all things Japanese had built through the 1860s and 1870s. This made the time ripe for an opera set in Japan. Gilbert told a journalist, "I cannot give you a good reason for our ... piece being laid in Japan. It ... afforded scope for picturesque treatment, scenery and costume, and I think that the idea of a chief magistrate, who is ... judge and actual executioner in one, and yet would not hurt a worm, may perhaps please the public."
In an 1885 interview with the New York Daily Tribune, Gilbert stated that the short stature of Leonora Braham, Jessie Bond and Sybil Grey "suggested the advisability of grouping them as three Japanese school-girls" referred to in the opera as the "three little maids". He also recounted that a young Japanese lady, a tea-server from the Japanese village, came to rehearsals to coach the three little maids in some native Japanese dances. On 12 February 1885, one month before The Mikado opened, the Illustrated London News wrote about the opening of the Japanese village noting, among other things, that "the graceful, fantastic dancing featured... three little maids!" The title character appears only in Act II of the opera. Gilbert related that he and Sullivan had decided to cut the Mikado's only solo song, but that members of the company and others who had witnessed the dress rehearsal "came to us in a body and begged us to restore [it]".
Courtyard of Ko-Ko's Official Residence
Original Score: Wikipedia
Gentlemen of the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu are gathered ("If you want to know who we are"). A handsome but poor minstrel, Nanki-Poo, arrives and introduces himself ("A wand'ring minstrel I"). He inquires about his beloved, a schoolgirl called Yum-Yum, who is a ward of Ko-Ko (formerly a cheap tailor). One of the gentlemen, Pish-Tush, explains that when the Mikado decreed that flirting was a capital crime, the Titipu authorities frustrated the decree by appointing Ko-Ko, a prisoner condemned to death for flirting, to the post of Lord High Executioner ("Our great Mikado, virtuous man"). As Ko-Ko was the next prisoner scheduled to be decapitated, the town authorities reasoned that he could "not cut off another's head until he cut his own off", and since Ko-Ko was not likely to try to execute himself, no executions could take place. However, all of the town's officials except the haughty nobleman, Pooh-Bah, proved too proud to serve under an ex-tailor, and they resigned. Pooh-Bah now holds all their posts and collects all their salaries. Pooh-Bah informs Nanki-Poo that Yum-Yum is scheduled to marry Ko-Ko on the very day that he has returned ("Young man, despair").
Ko-Ko enters ("Behold the Lord High Executioner") and asserts himself by reading off a list of people "who would not be missed" if they were executed ("As some day it may happen"), such as people "who eat peppermint and puff it in your face". Yum-Yum appears with Ko-Ko's other two wards, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing ("Comes a train of little ladies", "Three little maids from school"). Pooh-Bah does not think that the girls have shown him enough respect ("So please you, sir"). Nanki-Poo arrives and informs Ko-Ko of his love for Yum-Yum. Ko-Ko sends him away, but Nanki-Poo manages to meet with his beloved and reveals his secret to Yum-Yum: he is the son and heir of the Mikado, but travels in disguise to avoid the amorous advances of Katisha, an elderly lady of his father's court. They lament that the law forbids them to flirt ("Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted").
Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah receive news that the Mikado has just decreed that unless an execution is carried out in Titipu within a month, the town will be reduced to the rank of a village, which would bring "irretrievable ruin". Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush point to Ko-Ko himself as the obvious choice for beheading, since he was already under sentence of death ("I am so proud"). Ko-Ko argues, however, that, firstly, it would be "extremely difficult, not to say dangerous", for someone to attempt their own beheading, and secondly, it would be suicide, which is a capital offence. Fortuitously, Ko-Ko discovers that Nanki-Poo, in despair over losing Yum-Yum, is preparing to commit suicide. After ascertaining that nothing would change Nanki-Poo's mind, Ko-Ko makes a bargain with him: Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum for one month if, at the end of that time, he allows himself to be executed. Ko-Ko would then marry the young widow.
Everyone arrives to celebrate Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum's union ("With aspect stern and gloomy stride"), but the festivities are interrupted by the arrival of Katisha, who has come to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. However, the townspeople are sympathetic to the young couple, and Katisha's attempts to reveal Nanki-Poo's secret are drowned out by the shouting of the crowd. Outwitted but not defeated, Katisha makes it clear that she intends to get vengeance.
Yum-Yum is being prepared by her friends for her wedding ("Braid the raven hair"), after which she muses on her own beauty ("The sun whose rays"). Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo return to remind her of the limited duration of her impending union. Joined by Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush, they try to keep their spirits up ("Brightly dawns our wedding-day"), but soon Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah enter to inform them of a twist in the law that states that when a married man is beheaded for flirting, his wife must be buried alive ("Here's a how-de-do"). Yum-Yum is unwilling to marry under these circumstances, and so Nanki-Poo challenges Ko-Ko to behead him on the spot. It turns out, however, that Ko-Ko has never executed anyone, not even a Blue bottle, and cannot execute Nanki-Poo, because the ex-tailor is too soft-hearted. Ko-Ko instead sends Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum away to be wed (by Pooh-Bah, as Archbishop of Titipu), promising to present to the Mikado a false affidavit in evidence of the fictitious execution.
The Mikado and Katisha arrive in Titipu accompanied by a large procession ("Mi-ya Sa-Ma", "From Every Kind of Man"). The Mikado describes his system of justice ("A more humane Mikado"). Ko-Ko assumes that the ruler has come to see whether an execution has been carried out. Aided by Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, he graphically describes the supposed execution ("The criminal cried") and hands the Mikado the certificate of death, signed and sworn to by Pooh-Bah as coroner. Ko-Ko notes slyly that most of the town's important officers (that is, Pooh-Bah) were present at the ceremony. However, the Mikado has come about an entirely different matter; he is searching for his son. When they hear that the Mikado's son "goes by the name of Nanki-Poo", the three panic, and Ko-Ko says that Nanki-Poo "has gone abroad". Meanwhile, Katisha is reading the death certificate and notes with horror that the person executed was Nanki-Poo. The Mikado, though expressing understanding and sympathy ("See How the Fates"), discusses with Katisha the statutory punishment "for compassing the death of the heir apparent" to the Imperial throne—something lingering, "with boiling oil ... or melted lead". With the three conspirators facing painful execution, Ko-Ko pleads with Nanki-Poo to reveal himself to his father. Nanki-Poo fears that Katisha will demand his execution if she finds he is alive, but he suggests that if Katisha could be persuaded to marry Ko-Ko, then Nanki-Poo could safely "come to life again", as Katisha would have no claim on him ("The flowers that bloom in the spring"). Though Katisha is "something appalling", Ko-Ko has no choice: it is marriage to Katisha, or a painful death for himself, Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah.
Ko-Ko finds Katisha mourning her loss ("Alone, and yet alive") and throws himself on her mercy. He begs for her hand in marriage, saying that he has long harboured a passion for her. Katisha initially rebuffs him, but is soon moved by his story of a bird who died of heartbreak ("Tit-willow"). She agrees ("There is beauty in the bellow of the blast") and, once the ceremony is performed (by Pooh-Bah, the Registrar), she begs for the Mikado's mercy for him and his accomplices. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum then re-appear, sparking Katisha's fury. The Mikado is astonished that Nanki-Poo is alive, as the account of his execution had been given with such "affecting particulars". Ko-Ko explains that when a royal command for an execution is given, the victim is, legally speaking, as good as dead, "and if he is dead, why not say so?" The Mikado deems that "Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory", and everyone in Titipu celebrates ("For he's gone and married Yum-Yum").