By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 12/10/2018
Posted: 11/23/2008
Topics/Keywords: #Music #Concerts #GilbertandSullivan #Mikado #Operetta Page Views: 3794
How I finally, after all these years, got to attend a performance of my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

I am not the world's biggest opera fan. I love classical music, but I'm afraid I'm one of those Philistines who prefers his entertainment in English. When I see an opera in German or French or Italian, I keep reading the subtitles projected above the stage and miss most of the action. I know, I should just learn German and French and Italian. I'm always meaning to. But I've been busy.

Those TV shows won't just watch themselves, you know.

In any case, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were written in English. So I am willing to like them. And of all the G&S operettas, The Mikado has been my favorite since I was nine years old. At Christmas that year, my Mom gave me a 45-rpm record that managed, in about 8½ minutes, to present a synopsis of the whole story and snippets of six of the most beloved songs from it, songs like "A Wandering Minstrel, I" and "Three Little Maids" and "Tit-Willow".

So when I heard that the Arizona Opera was going to present The Mikado here in Phoenix, I let it be known that this was an opera I wanted to see. Our friend, Willis, has two season tickets and Michael normally attends with him (there is one presentation a month during the season). However, at least once I went in Michael's stead when Michael was to be out of town. So II kind of hoped Michael would back out of this one. However, instead, Willis bought me an extra ticket! —Which was so sweet of him, and even though he made out that it was payment for copying some CDs for him, it was still very considerate.

So I was especially sorry when, a couple of days before the performance, Willis called to say he was feeling poorly and didn't expect to be able to go. Since he feels the same as I do about wasting things like tickets (I once brought a perfect stranger with me on a 15-day Grand Canyon rafting trip rather than waste the $2000 ticket I had bought my by-then former boyfriend), he requested that I find someone else to go in his stead.

The first person I thought of was my friend Jack. Jack used to be my son's graphic arts instructor at Collins College but when the economy first began to tank, Jack was laid off. I thought he might get a lift from the show, and was glad when he agreed to go.

Me, Jack and Michael just before the show.

Jack was unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan, so I happily gave him the briefest of synopses: The story ostensibly takes place in Japan in the 1890s, but it's a Japan that never really existed. Instead, it is Britain of that era, complete with class divisions and innumerable public servants who are more concerned with serving themselves than the public—but thinly disguised so as to be humorous rather than offensive.

The ruler of Japan is the Mikado, and his son, Nanki-Poo, has come in disguise to the town of Tittipoo to woo lovely Yum-Yum, who previously was to wed her guardian, Ko-Ko; but Ko-Ko was condemned to die for the capital offense of "flirting" so Nanki-Poo figures Yum-Yum is, once again, available. Alas, Nanki-Poo discovers, there was no one holding the office of Lord High Executioner to carry out Ko-Ko's sentence; so Ko-Ko was given the job, selected by the populace on the assumption that he could not execute anyone else until he's first cut off his own head. This, I explained, was typical G&S logic.

We took our seats and were instantly impressed, even before the orchestra appeared, by the painted curtain.

The stage is ready for The Mikado.

Arizona Opera had done a magnificent job of staging the play, even extending to the curtain—and I appreciated it. Indeed, we all did. The theatre was packed.

The overture swelled; the curtain rose; the cast was in fine voice and every line was delivered clearly, and every note was perfect.

I've seen three different movie/video presentations of The Mikado and listened to several recordings of it; the Arizona Opera's production was by far the cleverest, clearest, and most enjoyable of them all.

Click here for a brief video of "Three Little Maids".

I can't overstress the importance of diction in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. Each song is packed with enough lyrics for two or three usual songs. If they aren't pronounced clearly enough there's just no point. Indeed, the over-stage screen did display subtitles but they weren't needed, the performers were that good.

So, all in all, a big thumbs up to the Arizona Opera for a brilliant production and a most enjoyably spent afternoon.