The Mikado

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Director's Notes

Welcome to the North Shore Light Opera’s 2006 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s timeless classic: The Mikado, or, The Town of Titipu.

After some considerable trouble in their professional collaboration, William S. Gilbert, librettist extraordinaire, attended the Japanese exhibition in London’s Knightsbridge, in 1884. It was there that Gilbert’s idea for The Mikado was born. Sir Arthur Sullivan, the composer of the successful duo, accepted the idea and six months later, in November 1884, Gilbert presented Sullivan with the working libretto for The Mikado. A scant four months later, on March 14, 1885, what was to prove to be the team’s greatest success was premiered at the Savoy Theatre, London, and went on to have an initial run of 672 performances. The Mikado has seldom been off the boards since. We are thrilled to continue this long tradition.

The production opens in the garden of Ko-Ko, the erstwhile tailor, recently raised to the rank of Lord High Executioner. Some noblemen of the city rise with the dawn for their daily exercise. Their work is interrupted by the entrance of a young strolling minstrel, Nanki-Poo, who enquires as to the location of his love, Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo learns through the narratives of Pish-Tush – a high noble – and Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything-Else), that his love is to be married to her guardian, Ko-Ko, that very day. The Lord High Executioner himself then comes home with his entourage and discusses the duties of his distinguished office, offering several suggestions of persons who might benefit from his services.

Shortly thereafter, his bride-to-be – Yum-Yum – her sisters, and friends return home from school, thrilled to be released from the drudgery of their scholastic trammels. Ko-Ko returns to greet these young ladies and is confronted with Nanki-Poo, his rival for Yum-Yum’s affections, whom he promptly dismisses. The girls have their fun with the noble Pish-Tush and the appalled Pooh-Bah. Left alone in the garden, Yum-Yum welcomes Nanki-Poo, but cautions him about the depressing fact that flirting has been, by the Mikado’s decree, made a capital crime. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum declare their undying love for each other, all the while avoiding the appearance of flirting.

Ko-Ko receives a dire message from the Mikado, expressing his concern that Ko-Ko has not exercised his office since being raised to it, insisting that a beheading take place within one month, or the consequences will be severe. Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush discuss alternatives, but they determine that unless a substitute can be found, Ko-Ko will have to perform the unhappy office on himself. Enter Nanki-Poo bent on terminating an unendurable existence and, with some attention to the details of the transaction, Ko-Ko’s problem is seemingly solved.

The nobles and young ladies return to determine what Ko-Ko intends to do about the Mikado’s decree and upon Ko-Ko’s introduction of Nanki-Poo as his volunteer, general rejoicing ensues. Katisha – an elderly lady of the Mikado’s court with her own designs on Nanki-Poo – enters to spoil the fun, but is rebuffed by the townspeople. The act ends with Katisha’s warning that she is off to inform the Mikado and revenge will be hers.

The second act opens with preparations for Yum-Yum’s nuptials that afternoon. The scene is a bit melancholy, but Yum-Yum perseveres and sings of her plans for the future. Ko-Ko returns with the news that, if Nanki-Poo is executed as planned, Yum-Yum must be buried alive with him. This news, of course, sends the entire plan into a tailspin. Nanki-Poo declares that he will return to his original intention of ending his own life rather than be without Yum-Yum, but Ko-Ko convinces him, with Pooh-Bah’s multi-personalitied assistance, that an affidavit attesting to his execution will do just as well as the real thing, so off they go to swear to the document and just in time, as the Mikado is about to enter the garden.

The Mikado and his suite take their positions, heralded by the people of Titipu, and he takes the opportunity to explain his leadership philosophy. Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and Pitti-Sing (one of Yum-Yum’s sisters and a co-conspirator) enter and regale the Mikado and Katisha with the sordid tale of the recent execution. The Mikado and Katisha are most pleased with the particulars until Katisha sees the death certificate, naming the unfortunate victim as her own lost love, Nanki-Poo. The Mikado sends the trio off to be executed, albeit reluctantly, and they work together to form a new plan that will satisfy all concerned, marry off assorted key players, and, most importantly, keep everyone attached to their heads.

In typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, the plan succeeds in grand fashion, and, as the Mikado declares happily, “Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!” With familiar tunes, sprightly dances, charming characters, lavish costumes, and an exotic setting, we think you will heartily agree. Thank you for coming to our show. Enjoy!

© 2019 North Shore Light Opera Society

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