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The Mikado - Arthur Sullivan - W.S. Gilbert - Jonathan Miller
English National Opera


On 10 December 2001 I saw The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, libretto by Sir W. S. Gilbert, and conducted by Mark Shanahan. Mr. Richard Angus performed the Mikado of Japan. Nanki-Poo (Mikado's son, disguised as a wandering minstrel and in love Yum-Yum) was performed by Mr. Bonaventura Bottone. Ko-Ko (Lord High Executioner of Titipu) was played by Richard Stewart; Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else) by Graeme Darby; Pish-Tush (a Noble Lord) by Riccardo Simmonetti; Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, and Beep-bo (three schoolgirls) were performed by Alison Roddy, Victoria Simmonda, and Fiona Canfield. In the programme there names were prefixed by Mr or Miss, the old fashioned form of address, which was used in theatre programmes many years ago, but a custom that has since been dropped. Mr Findlay Wilson performed Katisha's unrequited lover.

The comic opera The Mikado has been updated to 1920's Torquay. Gilbert's text portrayed very much what it meant to be British. Lazaridi's set is a sunny white hotel foyer with a fountain and palms. The men were dressed in very English (or what was 1920's English) stripped blazers and straw boaters (hats). This was very fashionable dress for the seaside in those days. Housemaids in the opera were dressed to look like Lyons Corner House waitresses (Known as "nippies" - probably because they moved so quickly from table to table serving people). The critics loved it all! Gilbert was what people now days would call a "dirty old man". The three schoolgirls have a very sexy way with heir lollipops!!!

Jonathan Miller brought more emphasis to the text rather than purely relying on Sullivan's charming music. There is, however, sadness and pathos - women are valued only if they are pretty and poor old Katisha dreams of a world where "punishment fits the crime" (sung by Lord High Executioner). Her punishment and crime consisted of simply living.

Musically, The Mikado contains the greatest number of well-known tunes. The music of Act 1 opens with Naki-Poo singing his famous song "A Wand'ring Minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches". Yum-Yum and her two sisters sing Three Little Maids from School are We. In Act II the Mikado introduces himself with the song A More Humane Mikado Never did in Japan Exist with its celebrated refrain: "My object all sublime I shall achieve in time - to let the punishment fit the crime." Ko-Ko sings the enchanting song "The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la, Have nothing to do with the case", in reply to Naki-Poo's request that Ko-Ko marries Katisha to get him off his (Naki-Poo's) hands so that his life will then be as welcome as the flowers that bloom in the spring. Alone with Katisha, Ko-Ko declares his passionate love and on her refusal sings the sad ballad Willow, Tit Willow ("On a tree by a willow a little tom-tit..." )

The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. They are a series of 14 comic opera. The first was produced at the Gaiety Theatre, London and the second at the Royal. The next four were at the Opera Comique and the remainder at the Savoy Theatre in London, which was specially built to give performances of partners' work. Richard D'Oyly Carte, who founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Co. also, built the Savoy Theatre. The Savoy was London's first purpose-built theatre and the first to have electric lighting. It opened in 1881 with Patience (or Bunthorne's Bride) a satire on the aesthetic poets of the day. The role of Bunthorne was obviously based on Oscar Wilde. Gilbert summed up the aesthese as "A greenery-gallery, Grosvenor Gallery, Foot-in-the-mouth young man." The operas are also known as the Savoy Opera or the D'Oyly Carte Opera. It was these operas which brought Gilbert and Sullivan (or G&S as they are known) together, but Sullivan was a serious composer rather chafed at the task of turning out tunes to Gilbert's comic rhymes, thus the two often quarrelled. I read that they even got so petty that they argued over the cost of the carpet at the Savoy! ! There have been several films about G&S, the most memorable perhaps was the 1953 film The Gilbert and Sullivan Story.

Sir William Schwenk Gilbert - born in 1836. He had many occupations and a wide variety of interests. He was in turn a civil servant, barrister-at-law (obviously influencing his libretto for Trial by Jury), a dramatist, and a stage producer. Gilbert had a great sense of humour, which crept into his libretto. He died in 1911, at the age of 74, in a gallant attempt to save a young woman from drowning.

Sir Arthur Sullivan - 1842-1900. He wrote several hymns including Onward! Christian Soldiers and the poignant The Last Chord. His last years were in deep contrast to the earlier splendour of his career; he gambled extravagantly at Monte Carlo and was in very poor health, alleviating continual pain with drugs. He had what almost amounted to a state funeral, the crowds lining the London streets as the cortege made its way to St Paul's Cathedral where he is buried.

 

Verinha Ottoni.




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