Does this man look funny to you? I don’t mean odd, but I can’t say he looks like a barrel of laughs either.
This is Sir William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and he is a librettist. A what? Oh, I didn’t quite know the full meaning myself but it is a person who writes the text and stage directions for an opera. Sort of a lyricist, but not a lyricist. Sir William might be the best known librettist of all time, yet… without the inclusion of his partner, the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), (Gilbert and Sullivan) few of us would know who he was.
In Murder at the Mikado, Julianna Deering uses a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera as part of the background for Drew’s investigation. At the time of her story, these amazing creatives were twenty years gone to their great reward, but just as today, their fourteen comic-operas lived on. The three most famous have been presented almost continuously somewhere on the planet, over the last one hundred and thirty years.
|The Savoy Theatre, London 1881|
Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest fan was the producer Richard D’oyly Carte. So enamored with their gift for whimsy, Carte built a theater—the Savoy—just to present their works. The comic-operas became known as Savoy Operas. It wasn’t always a smooth relationship among the three men. Creativity ebbs at times and when one opera lacked the wild success of another, an older opera was often revised while a new one was in the works.
The Mikado is considered by some to be the most performed opera of all time, including all the versions made by a male cast playing the female parts. The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore round out this trio. Adored by the Victorians, they stayed wildly popular throughout the turn of the century, the Edwardian era and showed no signs of slowing down during the 30s and 40s. (Drew Farthering's era)
Mikado is the name of a mayor (of sorts) of a small Japanese town. A cast of characters with silly names chase after even sillier goals. During the various runs of the opera, it was shut down more than once when the British government feared it would offend a visiting Japanese dignitary. Not to worry, one such dignitary was actually disappointed he wasn’t able to see it and the show was started up again. And yes, he enjoyed it.
What do you know of Gilbert and Sullivan, and their three most famous Savoy operas? Do you have a favorite?
I love how they have become a part of the public collective memory through other plays, books, movies and songs in multiple countries and languages.
(Plot Summary from IMBD)
In a mythical Japan, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, has been appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the ruling Mikado. He lights upon Nanki-Poo, a strolling minstrel who loves the beautiful Yum-Yum. But Yum-Yum is also loved by Ko-Ko, and Nanki-Poo, seeing no hope for his love, considers suicide. Ko-Ko offers to solve both their problems by executing Nanki-Poo, and an agreement is reached whereby Ko-Ko will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month, at the end of which Nanki-Poo will be executed, in time for the arrival of the Mikado. But what Ko-Ko doesn't know is that Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado and has run away to avoid a betrothal to an old harridan named Katisha. The arrival of the Mikado brings all the threads of the tale together.