Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan pic
Gilbert and Sullivan
Image: gilbertandsullivanarchive.org

Judge Diane Ritchie is a retired judge based in Santa Clara County and currently works as a mediator. In her spare time, Judge Diane Ritchie enjoys light opera, also known as comic opera, particularly the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on fourteen light operas in the late 1800s. One of their most popular works is The Mikado. Like all of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, it is a commentary on the class structure of Victorian society with witty lyrics and music, which ranges from bright and lively to mournful and beautiful. The plot is filled with funny twists and turns. As with almost all of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, in the end love conquers class distinctions and everyone gets married.

The Plot of the Mikado:
The Mikado, the emperor of Japan, is in search of Nanki-Poo, his only son. Nanki-Poo has fled the imperial court to escape marriage to Katisha, an elderly lady of the court. He is disguised a traveling minstrel, when he falls in love with a village girl, Yum-Yum. She is already betrothed to Ko-Ko, her guardian. Nanki-Poo cannot live without Yum-Yum so he decides to commit suicide. Hearing of this, Ko-ko and two of the villagers convince Nanki-Poo, to instead allow himself to be executed, so they can show the emperor they are enforcing the imperial law against flirting which is punishable by death. Before the execution is performed, they tell the emperor an elaborate series of lies explaining how they have executed a minstrel called Nanki-Poo for flirting. The emperor sentences each of them to death for killing his son. To escape execution, Ko-ko convinces the emperor’s son to show his father he is alive, by promising to woo and marry the lady from court. This frees the emperor’s son and the village girl to marry. The play ends with everyone, including all of the members of the chorus, paired up in marriages of their own.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado opened in London in 1885, where it was performed to packed crowds for two years. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company was created to perform the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. From the 1870s until 1982, they performed nearly year-round in the Brittan, Europe, North America, and other parts of the world. The plays are still performed around the world. At least three companies in the San Francisco Bay Area continue to perform Gilbert and Sullivan, including the Lamplighters in San Francisco http://www.lamplighters.org/about/about.html; the Stanford Savoyards http://www.stanford.edu/group/savoyards/cgi-bin/; and the Lyric Theater in San Jose http://www.lyrictheatre.org/.