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Widely agreed to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterpiece, THE MIKADO is said to be the most popular operetta ever written. Its inspiration, immortalized in the film Topsy-Turvy, has become legend: W.S. Gilbert was pacing his study, racking his brain for a new idea, when suddenly, a crash startled him out of his thoughts. He turned around, and there on his desk was an ancient Japanese sword. It had been mounted on the wall for years as a decoration, but now Gilbert looked upon it as though seeing it for the first time. A sign! He decided to write his next show about Japan.
Of course, like so many legends, this one is of very uncertain origin. Still, the real story of THE MIKADO's creation is as arresting as fiction. It was the summer of 1884, and the partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan seemed to be nearing an unhappy end: as their latest show, PRINCESS IDA, flopped at the box office, the two men were fighting over creative differences. Gilbert wanted to write a new show about a magic pill that transformed the identity of whoever swallowed it; Sullivan, on the other hand, was fed up altogether with the comic-opera genre, which he felt was inane and unworthy of his talents. Their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, pleaded with them to patch things up, if for no other reason than a contractual obligation to write a new show. But it was difficult for Gilbert and Sullivan to collaborate when they weren't even on speaking terms.
Gilbert later said that he was inspired by the decorative samurai sword on his wall; whether or not it literally fell, his idea nonetheless landed with a resounding bang. To everyone's relief, Sullivan loved Gilbert's story for THE MIKADO, since he found it to be more logical and character-driven than their other operas. He was also excited to try composing in a new, Japanese-influenced style, and he researched enthusiastically; he even added to the score a real Japanese war chant, “Miya Sama, Miaya Sama,” which he had learned from a former British diplomat to Tokyo. Fortunately for Gilbert and Sullivan, England was in the midst of a surge of interest in Japan, which had first opened up to Western trade only 30 years before. There even happened to be an entire Japanese exhibition in Knightbridge, which Gilbert eagerly used for research.
The failure of PRINCESS IDA put Gilbert and Sullivan under higher pressure than ever to produce a hit. Their star George Grossmith, who played Ko-Ko, was so anxious that he took injections of drugs; Gilbert wanted to cut the Mikado's only song and had to be persuaded not to. For luck, Gilbert had Grossmith make his first entrance wielding that old samurai sword that started it all.
THE MIKADO opened at London’s Savoy Theatre on March 14, 1885, after which Sullivan wrote in his diary: “Seven encores were taken. Never during the whole of my experience have I assisted at such an enthusiastic first night as greeted this delightful work.” Hardly daring to hope, he saw “every sign of a real success.”
Indeed, the show was an instant hit: it had the longest run of any Savoy opera (672 performances), as well as the quickest revival (17 months after the first run closed). It was a triumphant return to form for Gilbert and Sullivan. THE MIKADO was so popular that it had five separate companies touring North America simultaneously; one evening in 1886, there were 170 performances being performed in the United States alone. Piracy and unauthorized productions became such a problem that D’Oyly Carte took to holding secret rehearsals in other countries!
Today, THE MIKADO is a beloved classic. The role of Ko-Ko has been played by Groucho Marx, Eric Idle, and Dudley Moore; the name of the character Pooh-Bah has even entered the cultural lexicon as its own word, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person holding many offices or positions” or “a person in high position or of great influence.”The show continues to be the most frequently performed Gilbert and Sullivan show, with the highest number of recordings.
It is hard to believe nowadays that THE MIKADO nearly didn't exist at all—that Gilbert would rather have written a different story about a magic pill, or that until the perfect idea arrived, Sullivan considered comic operas to be beneath him. Perhaps we should all be grateful for Sullivan's reluctance, for even today, it is difficult to imagine another operetta being as masterful and enduring as THE MIKADO.
Vocal Range of Characters:
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- THE MIKADO - Orchestration Package (14 Books/16 Players)
- 1 – FULL SCORE (CONDUCTOR)
- 1 – FLUTE (Doubling Piccolo)
- 1 – OBOE
- 1 – CLARINET (Doubling A Clarinet)
- 1 – HORN
- 1 – TRUMPET (Optional A Trumpet)
- 1 – TROMBONE (with F Attachment)
- 2 – PERCUSSION (see "Materials Notes", under "Production Information")
- 1 – VIOLIN I (Divisi)
- 1 – VIOLIN II (Divisi)
- 1 – VIOLA (Divisi)
- 1 – CELLO
- 1 – BASS
- Rehearsal Set (22 Books)
- 20 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – Logo CD
- 2 – PIANO VOCAL SCORE
- Digital Logo
- Libretto/Vocal Books 10 pack
- 10 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- THE MIKADO - PRE-PRODUCTION PACKAGE
- 1 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – PIANO VOCAL SCORE
Singing-dancing ensemble consisting of School-Girls, Nobles, Guards and Coolies.
The Mikado of Japan
Nanki-Poo - his son, disguised as a wandering minstrel, and in love with Yum-Yum
Ko-Ko - Lord High Executioner of Titipu
Pooh-Bah - Lord High Everything Else
Pish-Tush - a noble lord
Yum-Yum - sister of Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, Ward of Ko-Ko
Pitti-Sing - sister of Yum-Yum and Peep-Bo, Ward of Ko-Ko
Peep-Bo - sister of Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing, Ward of Ko-Ko
Katisha - and elderly lady, in love with Nanki-Poo
Chorus of School-Girls, Nobles, Guards and Coolies
THE MIKADO takes place in Japan.
Court-yard of Ko-Ko's Official Residence