Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


The Music

3.1 General Observations
3.2 Act II
3.3 Individual songs
3.3.1 Tit-Willow
3.3.2 Hearts Do Not Break
3.3.3 The Sun Whose Rays
3.3.4 Here's a Horrid
3.3.5 See How the fates
3.3.6 Braid the raven hair
3.4 Influenced Puccini?
3.5 Chorine Tribulations

3.1 General Observations

Mike Nash wrote: Start with the good points:- The music has a very high proportion of catchy tunes - if the show were premiering in 1997, these would no doubt be released as singles. This is why I think the show has remained popular - many people like a catchy pop song. Tunes, like phrases, go into a nation's or civilization's consciousness, and people quote them even when they don't know who wrote them. (Example: "Tit Willow" being spoofed as "Portillo" on The Rory Bremner show - FTBONUKN, Rory Bremner is an impressionist who specialises in political satire, and Michael Portillo is one of the more right-wing members of the Conservative party, who always makes me think of one of the characters out of "The Godfather"). The orchestration is lovely too; underneath the aforementioned catchy tunes, there is a lot going on. Sullivan used a lot of variety in his instrumentation, which give the piece a lot of colour which it loses when it's hammered out on a piano, or when it's butchered as "The Hot Mikado" or something. (Though I have a hard-rock arrangement of "So Please You Sir We Much Regret" floating around my poor mad brain...) All in all, it makes Mikado one of my favourite operas to - I like to put on the CD, collapse on my bed and mellow out to "The Sun Whose Rays".

And the Bad bits:- Having said that the music for The Mikado is one of the easiest to pick up, I find that having picked it up, it didn't continue to grow on me the way that many of the others did. For instance, the first time I heard a tape of Patience I wasn't struck by it at all, but after a few listens (and learning the bass line) I discovered lots to enjoy. I don't find much in the music of The Mikado that's under the surface, so to speak, apart from the aforementioned subtleties in orchestration. That's OK in a stage show, where your audience are only going to hear it once, and won't even want to analyse it even if they had the chance. But I do feel that the score of The Mikado is more like the score of a modern musical than of an opera - a series of catchy pop songs strung together. Again, maybe that's why many people like it; after all, in terms of box-office at the very least, musicals outsell opera (at least in the UK). The only "extended" musical passage is Finale Act 1, and even that is really a series of songs ("With Aspect Stern", "The Threatened Cloud" etc.) Compare that with the "Hark, What Was That, Sir" scene from "Yeomen", which always strikes me as being more "operatic".

Sam Clapp replied: I think that The Mikado being more like the score of a modern musical has as much to do with the success of the opera as anything. Three of my top favorites are Mikado, Patience, and Yeomen, and one finds, on close inspection, that all of these operas contain no musical "scenes" (i.e., with a bunch of song strung together) except at their act endings!

Bruce Miller opined: In the discussion of music for Mikado, Ron mentioned "Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted" and the glee "See how the fates their gifts allot" as its two least memorable numbers. If these are indeed the weakest in that opera (many of us would agree) then the score's overall strength is once again demonstrated. Neither of these two movements is less than serviceable, although Sullivan did write better examples in both forms; both are amusing (those who vomit are no doubt in a small minority); and neither is anything near a failure due to a dearth of inspiration - whereas in the latter category one can point to various examples scattered throughout the canon.

Against this are:

The most brilliantly successful trio in G & S (Three little maids from school, or The flowers that bloom in the spring, {Nick Sales asked: Wearing my pedant's hat at a particularly rakish angle; isn't' that a quintet?}or Here's a how d'ye do, or I am so proud - take your pick).

Possibly the most brilliant and thrilling opening chorus (If you want to know who we are).

Arguably the finest Act I finale in G & S, rivalled perhaps by those in Iolanthe and Yeomen but not surpassed. To dismiss it as a "succession of songs" is to miss the brilliance (there's that word again) of Sullivan's (and Gilbert's) sense of dramatic sweep and contrast which distinguishes it.

The finest single aria in the entire canon "A wand'ring minstrel I".

The strength of musical characterization given to each individual role, as typified by the solo writing allotted to them in solos and ensembles.

The striking aptness of such movements as "There is beauty in the bellow of the blast", "So please you sir", "My object all sublime", "Behold the Lord High Executioner" and many others.

Compare these strengths to the other operas. It's an impressive list. You'll find examples of the above in most of them, but not necessarily on so consistently high a level or as numerous, and a main reason for Mikado's high ranking in the eyes of posterity.

Neil Ellenoff replied: I agree. I think we all have grown up with The Mikado and tend to take it for granted. I know I do. And then I listen to it and realize how great a work it is. Otherwise we have to characterize the opposing opinions in terms of A is Happy, B is Not. And Tom Shepard: And don't forget the terrific melodic rhythms which Sullivan invents for Gilbert's words. For melodic rhythmic variety, there is no other Savoy opera to surpass The Mikado.

Nick Sales commented: Bruce's comment about "A Wand'ring Minstrel interests me, not because I necessarily disagree (though if I thought about it long enough, I'm sure I would), but I would like some justification/explanation, if you please, Bruce.

3.2 Act II

Prompted by Paul McShane's dismissal of much of the music in Act II [See section 1.9 above.] Bruce Miller wrote: The Mikado - Act II - Musical excellence continued: Braid the raven hair - While I've found it surprisingly difficult to make work in performance, it is easily an above average women's chorus; certainly it ranks far above Utopia's Act I opening, and is more effective from the strictly musical aspect than Ida's 2nd or 3rd Act openings. No, it's not quite as inspired as some of the other choruses in Mikado, but for its place in the opera it works quite nicely, thank you. As to the mellisma on "supple" (of "supple tress"), that is a particularly felicitous example of Sullivan's tone painting. The long, flowing second melody "Art and nature thus allied") is gorgeous and in beautiful contrast to the opening tune. Coupled with inspired staging, costumes and lighting, this number can be stunning if well carried out.

The sun whose rays are all ablaze - this solo is one of the few in the canon which has been successfully sung on the concert stage apart from its context. For me, anyway, it's one of the very best musical numbers in Mikado and, again, it works quite well in the location it finally was placed - much better dramatically than its original location in Act I. I'd rank it as just less than absolutely superb.

Brightly dawns our wedding day - If not Sullivan's very finest madrigal, certainly one of his finest. Maybe people get tired of it with over- familiarity, but I find it has just the right blend of rejoicing mingled with the sadness and regret to come. However one ranks this quartet, it is far from being a loser.

Here's a how-d'ye-do - The first absolutely brilliant number in Act II, having been preceded by three winners. It's extremely amusing, admirably advances the plot, beautifully compact and quite original. It recalls the can-can while spoofing in a pseudo-Japanese manner, and highlights Sullivan's wit as well as (and perhaps more than) Gilbert's. Singers tend to dislike it because it's difficult to sing well, because the movement directors often require tends to be inconvenient.

Entrance of Mikado and Katisha/My object all sublime. The former is acknowledged by Paul to equal the best of Act I. The verdict of posterity seems to echo the chorus of the original production, which implored Gilbert to put it back after he had cut it at a rehearsal.

The Glee (See how the fates) - To repeat an earlier post - it's fun, and while not an overwhelming success, certainly at least adequate, and far from being a failure.

The flowers that bloom in the spring (which I earlier erroneously called a trio) - Another brilliant number which must be ranked among the very finest ensembles in the canon.

Alone! And yet alive - Another number which is difficult to bring off in performance. it requires a first rate singing-actress playing Katisha, who can play this scene straight. I have seen it work superbly, with the audience really showing great sympathy for her. Although Katisha has brought this on herself, her pain is real and there shouldn't be any hint of satire here. Musically this is a strong movement, but it only works given the right actress (and orchestra).

Tit-willow - A masterpiece, purely and simply.

There is beauty in the bellow of the blast - Ditto.

Act II finale - How could they lose when reprising those two numbers?

Rica Mendes admitted: I must agree with Bruce. I love Brightly Dawns. The lines weave so nicely together, the text's sarcasm sweetly sneaks up on you, and it is the first madrigal that includes fa-la-la's that I don't detest listening to and singing. Even the ding-doings are excusable. I do, also, have to admit that I think "Here's a Howdy Do" is a really annoying song, especially the dippy "Here's a pretty howdy-doooooooooo!"

3.3 Individual songs

3.3.1 Tit-Willow

Arthur Robinson noted: I find this song funny (though I have a weird sense of humor), for instance:

"Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?" I cried,
"Or a rather tough worm on your little inside?"

Actors may play this for sentiment (and even do so successfully), but I don't think that's what Gilbert intended. It seems to me a clear satire of sentimental tosh.

To which Paul McShane replied: This is a good point, Arthur. When I did Ko-Ko, I played it completely for sentiment in the first couple of verses, the rationale being that I had to knuckle down to do some hard convincing to Katisha, and needed to get carried away by my own words. There's a very nice gesture that you can incorporate - that of reaching out a finger to an imaginary branch for the bird to hop onto so you can address most of the first verse to him at eye level, then release him back to the branch on the last line of the verse. I believe that the best time to start reverting to humour is from the end of second verse, after eyeing off Katisha, and noticing that she has become affected. And Tit-willow, when sung completely seriously, is a much better number than Katisha's preceding solo. Nick Sales observed; I don't really see this as a fair comparison. Either song, out of context, or without the other, doesn't really work. Given two good actor/singers, the scene from "Alone, and yet alive" through to "There is beauty in the bellow" can be among the funniest, yet most moving from the entire canon. The pathos evoked by Katisha's recit/aria can be awe-inspiring, and it is the mark of genius on the part of S & G that it is immediately followed by one of the funniest scenes ever committed to a stage; the mere thought of a large, irate Katisha terrorising a pathetic, cowering Ko-Ko makes me chuckle. Follow this scene with a clever, sensitive rendering of "tit-willow", allowing us to see Katisha melting and I should say that just about sums it up. Oh, and I've just remembered my favourite line in the show - the "teeny weeny bit bloodthirsty" line; most Katishas I've seen have had one of Ko-Ko's cheeks in each hand at this point are shaking his head gently from side to side. Ah well-a-day! Mark Beckwith exclaimed: Heavens, what am I missing? Tit-Willow doesn't really work out of context? I don't agree. I sing this a lot as a get-up-and-sing-something-for-the-old-folks type number, and it is always highly successful. It is also a money-in-the-bank choice for auditions if you want to get across your aptitude for 'authentic style' (that is, if you're going for Ko-Ko). So I repeat, I must have missed something.

Bruce Miller wrote: With regard to whether to play "tit-willow" as funny or straight; It seems to me the key is Sullivan's orchestration, and tempo. If done in "Andante" 6/8 time, this implies a fairly fast pace - for the pulse is in 2 beats per each bar (not 6). Two beats in a walking tempo, moving at a metronome beat of ca. 75-80 for each dotted quarter note, has the signature "tit-willow" motive chirping rather briskly. This sounds and feels very differently from the standard, one might say lugubrious, pace affected by those adherents of the Martyn Green pathetic/sad school of interpretation. If one accepts that Gilbert was parodying a specific, serious model (as Leslie Bailey seems to demonstrate), then this is yet another example of Sullivan entering fully into the spirit of Gilbert's fun; and the faster pace seems more in keeping with Sullivan's characterization of Ko-Ko in other movements. This first came to my attention when I heard Peter Pratt's version in the first stereo Mikado. The music sounded so different, and his delivery far more deadpan than Green's. I don't believe Pratt really was the best exponent of Ko-Ko, judging from his records (he seems to have missed the "espressivo" part of Sullivan's "Andante espressivo"), but I also believe Green's interpretation of Tit-willow, however effective it may have been taken in isolation, was a real misreading of the song and its function. Ko-Ko is not Jack Point. Neil Ellenoff commented: I wish you all would realize that not even Jack Point is Jack Point.

David Duffey replied: On stage, however, Peter Pratt's Ko-Ko was outstanding. Described as "like a hopeful mole", he was bewildered by the elevation to LHE, surprised but delighted by his power and riches and totally bemused by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The was a comic inevitability about all that he did, but with the real timid Ko-Ko looking on from inside himself and becoming ever more confused. PP was always on the lookout for a topicality, which he usually slipped into one or other of the trio encores (and I have seen eight taken) Usually this took the form of a small item of costume, or headgear or a prop to suggest a person currently in the news.

Also, I think the effect of Green's "Tit-willow" was the contrast with the hammy and forced business used by Lytton. The thing which amazes me about it is his (Green's) description in his autobiography of the occasion he first sang the song straight. From memory it was something along the lines of:-'between acts I sent for Godfrey, our musical director and told him to have the strings muted', implying that it was done without rehearsal or consultation, surely something no professional would ever do.

3.3.2 Hearts Do Not Break

Mark Beckwith wrote: "Hearts do not Break" is easily one of my favorite moments in The Mikado. I am used to hearing it sung very well and very effectively. It makes me feel like a boob to have to sneak in and say "Katisha!"

3.3.3 The Sun Whose Rays

Barclay Gordon wrote: My only quibble with The Mikado, and it's a small one, centers on Yum-Yum's solo "The sun whose rays..." To my ear, it is an attractive melody, the pace is unhurried, and it seems to be placed comfortably for the soprano voice. Yet Yum-Yum Advertising Card even accomplished sopranos seem to have trouble putting the song across effectively. The audience is either waiting for the topsy- turveydom to begin again, or they don't have a clue as to what Yum-Yum is singing about-or why. I wonder if the fault is Gilbert's? Is the lyric a little tangled (what with a few well-chosen words from the Sun himself mingled in with Yum-Yum's?) Or is the song inadequately introduced in the dialogue that precedes it? What's wrong here? One last point: Yum-Yum, I know, is the most equal among equals, but nothing in her character before this song prepares me for the assertiveness of "I mean to rule the earth...etc." What am I missing? Nick Sales replied: I agree that it does seem to "be comfortably placed for the soprano voice", but I would contend that it is much harder to sing than it sounds. It seems to me to be almost in a category of its own amongst Sullivan's soprano arias; (or it may be that I've just forgotten some); it demands an immense amount of control from the singer, and the vocal line is of course, much exposed; in short, it has always struck me as "awkward" to sing; (of course, I've never sung it in public, not being a soprano, you know; my singing it in the bath falsetto is but the merest gossip).

3.3.4 Here's a Horrid

Mike Nash opined: I think "Here's A How-De-Do" is the worst song G&S ever wrote together. Nick Sales replied: It's good fun to sing if you're Nanki, and I have to admit that I've always enjoyed it; I have been told by a couple of Yum-Yums that they don't enjoy singing it, and Ko-Ko's do occasionally seem to struggle, but that could be due to the carefully choreographed-and-laid-down-in-stone dance moves for each of the verses/encores! (;o)

3.3.5 See How the fates

Aaron Hunt observed: Mikado fell rather low on my list of "favorites" because of my uncomfortableness while playing at Ko-Ko, but Mikado is one of my favorite pieces in regard to Sullivan's music, which is, IMHO, pure charm mixed with bushels of technique. I will not attempt to cover this subject, for which we have the esteemed Mr. Miller, much more qualified to the task than I. I will mention, however, that "See How the Fates" is one of my favorite numbers in the canon, and I hate to see it cut as much as enjoy singing it. During this discussion, I have heard this favorite of mine criticized, and I believe that this thought process harkens back to a previous discussion about musical numbers that do not "further the plot". I love the piece in question because it suspends our moment of "gleeful" terror, so that we may roll it around for a while like a Cabernet. Jeff DeMarco concurred: This is one of my favorites too! I think the contrasts are wonderful - the trio vs. the duo, each side kind of playing devil's advocate and the genuine glee of the Mikado over the irony of the whole thing. It has a bit of the feel of the Paradox trio about it. Plotwise, I think it firmly establishes that Ko-Ko et al. are done for, despite a tantalising ray of hope that maybe, using logic, the unfortunate trio can persuade the Lucius Junius Brutus of his race not to execute them. Moreover, I find it to be a catchy tune! Musically it does some neat things. I especially like the sonorities in the full quintet, dropping to a unison line for all, then splitting back into harmony at the end. Really striking effect, a bit like the opening of the English Madrigal "Amo, amas, I loved a lass." (No, not alas, above my station!)

And Bill Snyder purred Very glad to hear my opinion backed by a competent authority! The very first complete G&S I sang chorus in was a Mikado and the Glee was very warmly received. "Odd, I thought. Green says this quintet sucks" Then, some years later I directed Mikado and took a completely different tack on staging it. It worked yet again! I've seen Mikado twice since then and both times I watched the audience around me squirm in delight, then erupt into applause at the end. I could go on and on about what I like about the ensemble (mostly the brilliant simplicity of the writing and that the mezzo gets the melody), but basically I have found that one of the great strengths of Mikado is similar to the great strengths of Mozart's Da Ponte operas; the music director just has to get musical singing and the stage director just has to let the music be the guide. Bingo! Good show. Now the question that has bugged me: why did Martyn Green hate this number so much? David Duffey mused; I wonder whether it has to do with the voicing of the parts, which has Pooh-Bah singing a higher line than Ko-Ko? Incidentally, my earliest vocal score has Pish-Tush singing the Pooh-Bah line up to "Happy, undeserving A", then changes to Pooh-Bah (singing the middle line) for "If I were fortune".

And Paul McShane had this to say: Did someone really dare to criticise this number? For shame! I agree with Aaron and Jeff that it's tops. Apart from the catchy music, and excellent staging possibilities, it is notable for a string of wittily and original (I think) Gilbertianisms. I recall many years ago, when a totalisator jackpot betting system got introduced into our local horse racing scene, one of our newspapers ran a set of 4-5 cartoons, over the words: "See how the nags their gifts jackpot, for A is happy, B is not, Yet B...etc." I thought it was hilarious, and wondered at the time how many readers would have recognised the quotation. However, Lisa Berglund chimed in: I don't much care for "See how the fates," for a couple of reasons. First, I dislike the A,B,C gimmick that Gilbert turned to with tedious frequency in his later librettos. After its appearance in Mikado, we have "D may be dull and E's very thick skull..." and "Both A and B rehearsal slight..." and probably other examples that my befogged brain isn't retrieving at the moment. Second, I've never understood the logic behind the A/B model, or who sings what. Who are A and B supposed to represent? Why would Katisha respond, to the question "Is B more worthy?": "I should say / He's worth a great deal more than A?" This view makes her agree with Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko and Pitti-Sing that "B should enjoy A's happy lot"? Do the trio (P,P,K) and the duet (M,K) differ in their interpretation of who A and B represent? Does Katisha think that "B" is worthy of more prosperity than A because SHE is "B"? When I played Katisha myself, I found her position in this number completely bewildering. The music, I acknowledge, is pleasing, and structurally a quintet is desirable at this point in the opera. Bruce Miller added: In a production about 8 years ago, we tried the expedient of having Pish-Tush hang signs around the necks of Katisha (a Japanese-looking capital A) and Ko-Ko (a similar "B"). Katisha was slightly to stage right of the Mikado, who was center, and the three "B"'s (with Ko-Ko in the middle) in a group to stage left of Mikado. This made everything intelligible for the audience, and it worked fine. I also like the music, but have to admit it's not among G & S's very finest ensembles.

And Arthur Robinson added: I too have never cared a lot for "See how the fates." I don't dislike it, and there's nothing wrong with it; it just has the misfortune to come right after several brilliant numbers ("The criminal cried" seems to me one of Gilbert's best lyrics--even the "throwaway" lines "He always tries to utter lies, and every time he fails" and "he speaks the truth whenever he finds it pays" strike me not only as funny but perfect for the characterization of Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah) and before a show-stopper. I think that's the same reason I've never cared a lot for "Oh living I." If these songs were in Sorcerer or Utopia, I'd probably like them better. But Biff Florescu observed; Interesting: I much prefer "See How the Fate" to " the Criminal Cried" I think Criminal is set up weakly from a dramatic standpoint, or rather, it is not fleshed out much. Anyway, JMOHO. Robert Jones ventured this: I haven't dared to study the questionable algebra of "See how the fates". It probably makes perfect Gilbertian sense. As for his penchant for such things, perhaps it was a fashionable idiom at the time to refer to hypothetical people in such a way. I hope so. I, too, find it rather weak, and I naturally assume that WSG knows better than I.

Derrick McClure mused: Musically I think it's a gem, but I agree that the words are puzzling. the Mikado's opening quatrain could be just a general observation, and a perfectly true (not to say banal) one - some people are more prosperous than others, and prosperity has no relationship to merit. But WHY does Katisha come in so dramatically with "I should say he's worth a great deal more than A"?? If the Mikado's verse is not a generalisation but has a specific reference, then the only POSSIBLE meaning is that "A" is himself and Katisha, and "B" KK, PB and PS. And later on, the reference is made quite explicit with "But condemned to die is he". Katisha can't realistically think they are more worthy than she is, and presumably not even she would venture to suggest that they're more worthy than her Emperor. Anybody got an explanation for this one?

Charles Schlotter mused: I suspect this is yet another example of my theory that Gilbert's dramatic situations often hinge upon differences between strict interpretation of The Law and more flexible Equity jurisdiction. Katisha is certainly a representative of strict interpretation. Once the problem has been defined as "Fate ordains: A is happy. B, though worthy, is not." her course of action is clear. The Mikado's verse a generalization. The Law must subscribe unhesitatingly to this generalization. B is a great deal more worthy than A because that is how the case has been defined in Law (and Fate) and A must prevail. Questions of Equity, such as "But B more worthy?" must be violently rejected for to do is to cede ground to the Equity notions of fairness and looking at the facts of each case. Note, however, that Gilbert has already introduced an additional legal joke into the song (and we haven't even gotten through the first verse!) Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing are making an Equity argument on behalf of A and B, yet A and B not real people but complete abstractions! (To go a step further, this heated argument is advanced by fictional characters.) Now KP&P attempt to redefine the problem in terms that M&K will accept. They turn the case on its head by redefining the worthiness of A and B. M&K, suspecting an Equity trick, ask whether, given the newly defined facts of the case, KP&P will insist upon strict application of The Law (Fate). No, because KP&P are using Equity theory to serve their own self-interests (as M&K use The Law to serve self interests.) Equity will only be used to advance B if they are defined as B. Now M&K have sniffed out the logical flaw behind KP&P's attempt to remove the case to Equity and destroyed it. So the case lapses into The Law, where wretched meritorious B is condemned to die. I find Gilbert's lyrics to this number are among his most subtle and ingenious. He may have used letters to designate characters elsewhere ("Oh, A Private Buffoon") but he never played with so many levels of reality. He seems here to anticipate 20th Century writers who play with perceptions of reality. Thank you for forcing me to analyze and understand my instinctive love of this particular number.

Rica Mendes offered this: This is my interpretation of that, and, the way that I played it:

The Mikado intends to define A as himself/Katisha and PS, PB and KK as B. Katisha, seeing herself as worthy and unhappy over NP's demise, defines herself (mistakenly) as B. Then the trio comes in, following the Mikado's lead and defining themselves as B and, IMHO, Katisha as A. But, of course, no one is 100% sure of who is who, so the trio has to redefine themselves as B at the end of their verse. And Thomas Drucker observed: It seems as though performers have a hard time fitting questions of motivation and identity into 'See how the Fates their gifts allot'. I'm not sure that audience members feel the same difficulty. After all, the text of the quintet is more or less a standard theme in moral philosophy (down, no doubt, to the references to individuals by letters). There is rather more of a lyrical touch to it, thanks to the quaffing, chaffing, and so forth. Still, the idea would readily have come from ethics text (or, for that matter, a sermon) with 'B' being Boethius. (Finding the ethics text would take a little more work.) If the song were to have been put in Princess Ida, it would be just another pseudo-academic exercise and weigh it down further. Among the lightness of The Mikado, it is reminiscent of other songs giving a certain academic seriousness in the midst of sunshine (e.g., the Quintet 'Try we life-long' in Gondoliers). That doesn't help Katisha's difficulty in sounding convincing in asserting B's value relative to A, but it may suggest that the audience is not in need of another conviction. Bill Kelly surmised: For me (as for Thomas Drucker), the use of "A" and "B" in "See How the Fates" suggests not algebra but moral philosophy. Didn't G. E. Moore, a moral philosopher writing at Cambridge (UK) about the turn of the century, use such a scheme in his Principia Ethica? That would be Gilbert's era.

3.3.6 Braid the raven hair

Lisa Berglundobserved: In our production of The Mikado, by the way, we gave the solo in "Braid the raven hair" to Peep-Bo. This arrangement seems to me superior to that in the opera as written. Not only does it give that soloist a little more to do, but the solo strikes me as much more in keeping with Peep's character. Her few lines of dialog suggest that she's much more catty and manipulative than the good-natured and ebullient Pitti-Sing. Michael Walters noted: A very interesting observation, with which I agree. In the "Lytton" recording, this solo is given to Peep-Bo (Beatrice Elburn), though this may have been purely accidental, depending on what singers were available for which sessions. But I have always felt that the only reason Pitti-Sing has so much more to do than Peep-Bo is because Jessie Bond was a much better performer than Sybil Grey.

3.4 Influenced Puccini?

Ian Hollamby wrote: I seem to recall reading somewhere, that at the time when Puccini was composing Madama Butterfly, he vouchsafed to one of his friends that Sullivan's scoring of 'Japanese' music was so inspired that he (Puccini) could learn from it. It certainly seems to be a matter of record that Puccini had a copy of 'Mikado' in his musical library, and they both appear to have used the tune of 'Miya Sama' in their respective scores. Bruce Miller replied: This rings true. Both were superb orchestrators, and although Sullivan was writing for a much smaller orchestra, Puccini could have felt as reported. Sullivan's full orchestral score was, by the time of Madama Butterfly's composition, in print - although it's unclear from your message precisely what form of score Puccini was supposed to have had in his library. I suspect it was a piano-vocal score, which wouldn't have provided the kind of information Puccini could have used as to details of orchestration. The full score was a limited edition of 75 copies. It's nice to think that Puccini may have been able to consult one of them.

3.5 Chorine Tribulations

Leta Hall wrote: I am a lyric soprano of adequate ability, which means that I usually sing in the chorus. I will happily sing chorus for most G&S shows, even Pinafore and especially Pirates or Yeomen or Ruddigore. But Mikado! Herewith are my objections, from the chorine's POV, to Mikado:

All the best music ("I Am So Proud," "Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast," the madrigal, etc.) happens when we are off stage. Sure, we can hang out in the wings and enjoy it, same as the audience, but it's not the same.

We have to sing "Three Little Maids." I know, I know, TLM is one of the most beloved of all G&S numbers ( highlights CD has it), but I loathe it. Its CP is enormous and it's redundant because everything it tells us is expressed elsewhere, to wit:

1. Yum-Yum is leaving school and coming to marry Ko-Ko (Pish-Tush's dialogue);

2. The young girls are innocent of the ways of the world ("Comes a Train of Little Ladies");

3. They are also silly hoydens ("Oh Please You, Sir"). Cut it and you loose nothing, except that the audience would lynch you during intermission.

We are expected to act stupider than usual in order to satisfy the stereotype that's being satirized.

We are usually forced to carry Japanese-style parasols or fans or both. I'm 5'7, so I'm usually one of the tallest of the women's chorus. During Mikado rehearsals and performances I'm in constant danger from the wood & paper props. In Pirates we wear mobcaps during the second act. No one's ever hit me in the face with a mobcap.

If I lived in a town that didn't have a G&S society, only the annual Mikado society, sure, I'd sign up. Even the worst Gilbert & Sullivan (which Mikado isn't) is better than no Gilbert & Sullivan - god forbid. And if Gillian Knight were performing, I'd buy a ticket every weekend. And I love the dialogue. Dan Kravetz replied: I strongly disagree. "Three little maids" was obviously intended to be a sharp, surprising contrast to the chorus that precedes it. It's a transition between old-fashioned and modern young women right in front of the audience. The chorus portrays innocence but the trio that follows is supposed to show the opposite. Silly hoydens? Perhaps, but we need to know this as soon as we meet the three principal girls.

And Bruce Miller replied thus: I respectfully but urgently disagree with your contention that "all the best music" in Mikado happens when the [female] chorus is offstage. You are thus discounting:

So please you sir (a number which, in my experience, the women's chorus loves to sing).

With joyous shout - absolutely magnificent and exciting music to sing.

For he's going to marry Yum-Yum.

Act I Finale closing chorus, culminating in "We do not hear their dismal sound" - Sullivan's answer to Meistersinger, and way up on the spine-tingling chart.

Entrance of the Mikado and My object all sublime.

Act II Finale, wherein the chorus gets to reprise two of the best of the Act I Finale.

No, my dear Leta - if you find this dull, I submit to you the fault is not with Sullivan (or Gilbert).

Rica Mendes replied to this: Agreeing with THBM, I have to chime in and add "Criminal Cried".

Leta Hall replied: One of the many benefits I receive from Savoynet is the chance to have some of my more fat-headed opinions revised after input from the more learned members of the group. (No, I am not being sarcastic; I really mean it.) You're quite right - the music in the two finales is terrific and I do enjoy "With Joyous Shout" very much. My mistake. On the other hand, I still disagree with some of what you've said. "So Please You Sir," for instance is a great number and women's choruses often enjoy singing it - in the context of Mikado. It's lively, it's fun, and the tra-la-las stop just this side of being giggles. But I bet that if you gather together a women's chorus and give them the entire canon of women's chorus music from which to pick for general singing, it will be quite some time before "So Please You Sir" gets mentioned. (Some numbers from Iolanthe will be sung twice before you get to it, in fact.) Perhaps I should have made clearer that I was speaking only from my experience as a chorine. As an audience member for Mikado I enjoy the whole show. In fact, the next time you music direct it, let me know and I'll come up from Maryland to see it. And I'll leave the theater whistling all the airs. Of course, now "So Please You Sir" is stuck in my head. Thanks Bruce. Thanks a lot. And Dan - the point you outlined had never occurred to me. And it's a good one, too, especially since subtext is one of those things I get all excited about. I'll have to think about it and (oh dear), possibly withdraw my objection. Sigh. Of course, I notice that no one has rushed up to defend the experience of being hit in the face with parasols. Hmmmm.

Page created 16 March 1999