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Catalog Record: The story of The Mikado | HathiTrust Digital Library
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- The Hit (Screenplay Version) (Short Story Book 123).
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Your registration has been successful. However, as Lord High Everything Else, he's conflicted - as Private Secretary he could authorize a lavish wedding, which as Chancellor of the Exchequer he can't permit, although as Paymaster General he could alter the books, but then as Lord High Auditor he would discover the fraud, as Archbishop he would denounce it, and as First Commissioner of Police arrest himself. Ko-Ko, too, has a problem - he can't hurt a fly, but must execute someone prior to the imminent visit of the macabre Mikado, who naturally expects his high officials to earn their keep.
While Pinafore had skewered British class snobbery and Penzance agism, The Mikado tackles the more universal and highly contemporary theme of friction between government and human relationships. The story proper finds Ko-Ko in love with his lovely young ward Yum-Yum great names!
Ko-Ko strikes a bargain, agreeing to let Yum-Yum marry Nanki-Poo if he agrees to be beheaded after one month, after which Ko-Ko's position will be secure and his own plan to wed Yum-Yum will resume. Two problems, though - the intended victim is the Mikado's only son in disguise, and an obscure law requires the widow of one beheaded to be buried alive. Of course, ultimately there's a happy and thoroughly "topsy-turvy" solution - all agree that, by virtue of his supreme sovereignty, when the Mikado commands that something be done it's as good as done, so why bother actually doing it?
Not to diminish Sullivan's role, but this seems to be one of the few instances in opera where the words outshine the music. Tellingly, while Gilbert's lyrics are often quoted, suites of Sullivan's music are rare. Even in his wonderful Pinafore , some rhymes seem forced and prose merely functional.
Here, though, every line sparkles. Indeed, Gilbert's text is often so inherently musical as to all but set itself. Thus, a line like "Laughing ha-ha , chaffing ha-ha , nectar-quaffing ha-ha-ha " all but compels its accompanying melody. Even beyond its abundant wit, consider the internal rhythm of this rapid-fire ditty contemplating the condemned's fate: To s it in s olemn s ilence in a d ull, d ark d ock In a p enitential p rison with a l ife- l ong l ock, Awaiting the s en s ation of a s hort, s harp s hock From a ch eap and ch ippy ch opper on a b ig, b lack b lock.
Once heard, the melodies seem an intractable part of the overall impression. Yet, while the extraordinarily close fit between words and music suggests that the two creators worked intimately, their relationship was rather distant - typically, Gilbert would present a libretto to Sullivan, who would then fashion the music, after which they would collaborate to polish the final form.
Yet, all sound utterly natural in context. His daring structures are wondrous as well - the "I Am So Proud" trio combines three complementary lines of patter, each tightly rhymed every four syllables. In Pirates of Penzance , Gilbert seeming tweaks himself when the Modern Major General keeps singing himself into a corner and must struggle to find appropriate rhymes for abstruse words to which he's already committed himself. Some of the allusions are time-bound and obscure nowadays such as "Parliamentary trains" - an apparent reference to excruciatingly slow government-subsidized locals.
Since the lyrics were intended to be topical, modern practice occasionally updates the text to retain the intended effect of relevance. One part in particular all but demands contemporary revision - Ko-Ko concludes his little list of society offenders who never would be missed with "Tut-tut-tut and What's His Name and also You-Know-Who" - the original actor, apparently as gifted a mimic as an accomplished singer, was to ply his trade with caricatures of government leaders, and it surely upholds the spirit of the work to do so nowadays.
Was Gilbert a racist? Perhaps, but he probably was no more insensitive than any other upper-crust Britisher of the time, who was both fascinated and repulsed by anyone whose family tree was fed by earthy roots.
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Curiously, the first report of any concern arose only in , when Rupert D'Oyly Carte wrote: "We found recently in America that much objection was taken by coloured persons to a word used twice in The Mikado Many protests and letters were received. Gilbert not only provided the tight libretto, but served as an equally fastidious stage director. Charles Hayter notes that Gilbert rehearsed fanatically, insisting upon a consistency of style comprising each detail of stage movement, bodily gesture, facial expression and spoken inflection.
He prized articulation to convey the subtleties of his language and held realistic and earnest delivery as the key to relishing the absurdity of his plots; indeed, illogic is only extraordinary in a context of strict logic. His obsession with accuracy led him to hire a Geisha girl from a cultural exhibition in Knightsbridge known as "Miss Sixpence Please," the only English words she spoke after serving customers their tea to teach his cast proper Japanese deportment and movement, and to insist that actual Japanese silk be used for all Mikado costumes some of which were antique kimonos.
As for Sullivan's music, The Mikado is remarkable for its sheer density and sustained quality. A typical opera or musical has at most a dozen or so memorable arias or songs, but The Mikado has over thirty. The score separately lists 24 numbers, but several are compound; thus, Nanki-Poo's opening song "A Wandering Minstrel I" has four distinct parts and the first act finale six, any of which could have been developed into a full-blown number of its own.
Significantly, only one is distinctively Japanese - the "Mi-ya Sa-ma" chorus that opens the overture and reappears at the Mikado's entrance is a genuine Imperial army war march. The extraordinary century-long history of Mikado recordings was paved by Sullivan himself a mere three years after the premiere. In one of the earliest surviving Edison cylinders, made at an October dinner toast in London, Sullivan reacted to a demonstration of the new invention with both humor and startling prescience: I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening's experiment - astonished at the wonderful power you have developed and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.
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But all the same, I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery. What a fine prognosis of the future recording industry! Of these, the most important is "A More Humane Mikado" cut in by Richard Temple, who had created the role and for whom the part was customized. Richard Temple The first Mikado Indeed, he's the only member of the original cast to have made any records.
The result is surprisingly ordinary and casual, often blurring the rhythmic distinction between quarter and eighth notes and departing from the score only to add a slight embellishment on "billiard," but perhaps suggests a pervasive wry subtlety in the original production.