Gilbert and Sullivan by Charles Hayter (auth.)

By Charles Hayter (auth.)

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A similar idea is more subtly suggested in the opening moments of The Mikado. Modern productions of The Mikado often begin with the nobles frozen in various attitudes and then coming to life one by one. The implicit statement is that the characters in the opera are not real but part of a fantasy played out by figures on a Japanese vase who magically come alive. The audience slips into the world of the Japanese vase as easily as Alice slips through the mirror, and the world encountered, every bit as fantastic as the Looking-Glass world, has a kind of perverse dream-like symmetry.

The meticulous construction of the Savoy Operas suggests that he was stimulated by the clockwork-like precision of these French farces. The Mikado demonstrates many techniques of the well-made play. To begin with, much of the story has taken place before the opera begins; a full one-third of the first act is taken up with recapitulation of prior events. Gilbert's exposition is deliberate and methodical. Following the introduction of the male chorus and Nanki-Poo, we learn from the dialogue that the story extends back a year in time, when Nanki-Poo fell in love with Yum-Yum.

14 Gilbert's object of satire was Meyerbeer's popular opera, first produced in Paris in 1831. During the course of the original opera, Robert is persuaded by Bertram (the villain) that the only way to win the heart of his beloved, Princess Isabella, is to commit the sacrilege of stealing a branch of a magic bough from a tomb in a deserted cloister. In the climactic scene, a chorus of ghostly nuns incite Robert to steal the branch. Subsequently, Robert uses it to overpower Isabella's keepers, but when she persuades him to break the branch, he is captured.

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