The Mikado DOyly Carte Opera Company

The D'Oyly Carte Opera

The Mikado   DOyly Carte Opera Company, The D'Oyly Carte Opera
CDJAY2 1411
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CD1: 51'48"
CD2: 32'58"

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GILBERT & SULLIVAN

THE MIKADO
or
The TOWN of  TITIPU

Libretto W.S. GILBERT
Music ARTHUR SULLIVAN

Musical text based on The D’Oyly Carte Performing Edition

prepared from the composer’s autograph by Dr David Russell Hulme

BONAVENTURA BOTTONE      DEBORAH REES
SUSAN GORTON      MALCOLM RIVERS
ERIC ROBERTS      THORA KER      YVONNE PATRICK
MICHAEL DUCAREL      GARETH JONES

CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA
of the
D’OYLY CARTE OPERA

Conducted by
JOHN PRYCE JONES

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It may well be true to say that THE MIKADO has enjoyed wider fame and a greater popularity than any other English operetta.  At the very first performance on March 14, 1885, it was clear that something very special had been created by the celebrated partnership of William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900).  Rutland Barrington, the creator of Pooh-Bah and a leading player in the original production of most of the Savoy operas, recalled the rapturous reception: “Never during the whole of my experience have I assisted at such an enthusiastic first night as greeted this delightful work.”  Continued public enthusiasm thereafter sustained the piece for an initial run of 672 performances – the longest of any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.  Outside the English-speaking world too, THE MIKADO is the only work of the partnership to have established any sort of lasting reputation.  It seems incredible that less than a year before its triumphant production at the Savoy Theatre the partnership between its creators appeared to be on the brink of collapse.

PRINCESS IDA had opened at the Savoy in January 1884.  A reworking of one of Gilbert’s earlier blank verse plays, it did not – despite some cleverly amusing lyrics and some of  Sullivan’s most exquisite music – prove to be a great success at the box office.  Rather sooner that he might have expected, Gilbert found it necessary to think about writing a new work for the theatre which Richard D'Oyly Carte had built only a few years before specifically to house the works of the partners.  Sullivan however, was not compliant.  As far as he was concerned, with PRINCESS IDA he had “come to the end of ….” his “capability in that class of piece.”  Impasse followed as Sullivan insisted that hitherto he had “been continually keeping down the music” in order to give precedence to the words.  Instead of Gilbertian fantasy he wanted “to set a story of human interest and probability.”  Eventually, however, attitudes softened and out of the turmoil came THE MIKADO.  It was not ready in time to replace PRINCESS IDA; so, as a stop-gap, Carte produced TRIAL BY JURY and THE SORCERER in a double bill – the latter partly revised – bringing to the Savoy the first in an extensive series of Gilbert and Sullivan revivals.

The outline of the Japanese opera was first put to Sullivan in May of 1884.  The story that Gilbert was struck by the idea when a Japanese sword fell from the wall in his study may be apocryphal, but it has nonetheless taken its place amongst theatrical legends.  Certainly in the mid 1880’s the aesthetic enthusiasm for “all one sees that’s Japanese” was becoming increasingly widespread.  The Japanese Exhibition in Knightsbridge – often credited as an inspiration for Gilbert’s choice of locale – had not, in fact, been assembled when the operetta was drafted, but it undoubtedly boosted topical appeal when THE MIKADO went before the public – there is even a reference to the exhibition in the dialogue.  Indeed, Gilbert sought advice and assistance from several native Japanese working at the exhibition and went to a good deal of trouble to ensure that costumes, deportment and all visual aspects of the production were convincingly authentic.  He even obtained genuine antique armour from Japan but this proved too small and too heavy.  Such realistic recreation on stage of the minute detail of real-life costumes and settings was an essential part of Gilbert’s production technique, serving to highlight the absurdities of the plays themselves.  In THE MIKADO the authentic Japanese décor provides a mask behind which is played an essentially English satire, albeit a gentle one, on Victorian social moves.

Although Sullivan had agreed to collaborate on the new operetta in May, 1884, it is not until a few days before Christmas that work on composition was begun – one of the first pieces he sketched out was “Three little maids from school”.  At first progress was slow, but as February began he settled to work in earnest, hardly emerging from his rooms except to attend rehearsals.  Orchestrating the music well into the small hours night after night – a familiar pattern, he finished the full score, but for Katisha’s Act II solo and an Overture, just over a week before the premiere.  In the event Sullivan was to leave the arrangement of the Overture to Hamilton Clarke, although he did give Clarke instructions about which themes should be used and their treatment.

The tremendous success of the first night, at which Sullivan conducted, must have provided some compensation for the strains of the composition and rehearsal period – not that work on the shaping of the new piece was quite over, even at that stage.  It was generally the case with a new operetta that alterations were made after the premiere, and THE MIKADO was no exception.  Within days – possibly even by the second performance – the position of two songs had been altered:  Ko-Ko’s ‘list’ song was placed earlier in the first act, and “The sun whose rays” transplanted from a position just after “Three little maids from school” to Act II.  It is less clear whether other changes concerning the music were made before or after the premiere.  One instance is the reprise of “The threatened cloud” which was added to the second act Finale as an after-thought; another is the deletion of what amounts to a second verse of the duet for Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, “Were you not to K0-Ko plighted”.  Before the first night Gilbert was decidedly nervous about the reception of the new work.  He even proposed to cut “A more humane Mikado” – one of the operetta’s most famous numbers – because he feared that it held up the action.  It took a deputation from members of the chorus to persuade him to retain it.  The author’s judgement was not always infallible!  Probably the same desire to maintain the pace of the action led to the condensing of the duet.  It should certainly not be assumed that author or composer felt any dissatisfaction with the material of the number as such.  More than likely it was selected for pruning simply because the operation was easily accomplished.  One certainly suspects the cut was Gilbert’s idea, as Sullivan is less likely to have wanted a curtailment of such an opportunity for lyrical expansion.  The present recording is the first to include the full duet in its original form.  It also eliminates many spurious alterations to Sullivan’s musical text, especially within the orchestral textures, which have crept there since the composer’s death.  

THE MIKADO  is undoubtedly one of the finest Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – many would regard it as the finest of all.  Gilbert’s play is brilliantly constructed and the ingenuity and variety of his lyrics provided unfailing inspiration to the composer.  There are specific musical jokes, such as the wind interpolations in “The criminal cried” and the quotation from Bach’s “Great G minor” organ  fugue at the Mikado’s reference to “Masses and fugues and “ops”/By Bach interwoven with Spohr and Beethoven”, but much more fundamental is the vein of pure good humour which pervades the score.  Nowhere did Sullivan write more wittily than in such numbers as “Three little maids from school”, “So please you, sir” and “Here’s a how-de-do!”,  and where the verbal wit is to the fore, as in Ko-Ko’s ”list” song and “There is beauty in the bellow of the blast”, the musical support is impeccable.  The once important element of musical burlesque -–usually aimed at grand opera – is no longer so.  It had been diminishing, in any case, since THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (although the similarity between the melodies of “Behold the Lord High Executioner” and “He’s a fine old English gentleman” does suggest a deliberate parody).  Pooh-Bah’s “long life” cadenza is not burlesque: it is pure humour.

Gilbert and Sullivan excel in the portrayal of girlish innocence and nowhere are their inspiration happier in this vein than in the choruses and the sparkling ensembles for the schoolgirls. Yum-Yum’s  solo, “The sun whose rays”, reposeful in its re-allotted position early in Act II, is a tour de force of subtle rhythmic treatment and expressive vocal contour.  Ultimately, however, Gilbert and Sullivan’s achievement in THE MIKADO goes beyond the creation of a succession of individually brilliant musical numbers and dialogue scenes.  It is the complete artistic cohesion of its every element that places it amongst the greatest operettas ever written.

© DAVID RUSSELL HULME 1990

CD ONE
  1. OVERTURE
  2. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO WE ARE
  3. A WANDRING MINSTREL I
  4. OUR GREAT MIKADO, VIRTUOUS MAN
  5. YOUNG MAN, DESPAIR, LIKEWISE GO TO
  6. AND HAVE I JOURNEY'D FOR A MONTH
  7. BEHOLD THE LORD HIGH EXECUTIONER
  8. AS SOME DAY IT MAY HAPPEN
  9. COMES A TRAIN OF LITTLE LADIES
  10. THREE LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL ARE WE
  11. SO PLEASE YOU, SIR, WE MUCH REGRET
  12. WERE YOU NOT TO KO-KO PLIGHTED
  13. I AM SO PROUD
  14. FINALE ACT ONE
CD TWO
  1. BRAID THE RAVEN HAIR
  2. THE SUN, WHOSE RAYS ARE ALL ABLAZE
  3. BRIGHTLY DAWNS OUR WEDDING DAY
  4. HERE'S A HOW-DE-DO! IF I MARRY YOU
  5. MI YA SA MA, MI YA SA MA
  6. A MORE HUMANE MIKADO NEVER DID IN JAPAN EXIST
  7. THE CRIMINAL CRIED AS HE DROPPED HIM DOWN
  8. SEE HOW THE FATES THEIR GIFTS ALLOT
  9. THE FLOWERS THAT BLOOM IN THE SPRING
  10. ALONE, AND YET ALIVE
  11. ON A TREE BY A RIVER
  12. THERE IS BEAUTY IN THE BELLOW OF THE BLAST
  13. FINALE ACT TWO