Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Sir Arthur Sullivan
  • In English with projected English texts
  • Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 54 minutes

Music! Lyrics! Comedy! It's the greatest English operetta of all time.

There's too much flirting going on in the town of Titipu — and it's against the law! So the Mikado (emperor of all) decrees that heads must roll.

But what can you do when love is in the air? Nanki-Poo (wandering minstrel and errant son of the Mikado) longs to marry lovely Yum-Yum — but he's promised to the older (and unpleasant!) Katisha — and Yum-Yum's supposed to be the bride of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner!

Beheading, boiling in oil...punishments galore are devised to make the "criminals" pay. But fear not — this is a comedy, and you'll be smiling the moment the curtain goes up and humming the tunes for weeks.

James Morris, one the most celebrated bass-baritones ever, is the Mikado!

Stephanie Blythe is a fabulous, take-no-prisoners Katisha.

Neal Davies, eminent Handelian baritone, is an equally marvelous Ko-Ko.

And Toby Spence and Andriana Chuchman will be divine as the young lovers!

 

NEW PRODUCTION

 

New Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Jim and Vicki Mills/Jon and Lois Mills, Exelon, and The Negaunee Foundation.

Morris Mikado ST

The Mikado
James Morris

Davies Mikado ST

Ko-Ko
Neal Davies

Bylthe Mikado ST

Katisha
Stephanie Blythe

The Mikado - Toby Spence

Nanki-Poo
Toby Spence*

The Mikado - Andriana Chuchman

Yum-Yum
Andriana Chuchman

The MIkado - Andrew Shore

Pooh-Bah
Andrew Shore

The Mikado - Phillip Kraus

Pish-Tush
Philip Kraus

The Mikado - Katharine Goeldner

Pitti-Sing
Katharine Goeldner

Emily Fons

Peep-Bo
Emily Fons

The Mikado - Sir Andrew Davis

Conductor
Sir Andrew Davis
Dec 6 – Jan 9

Philip Morehead

Conductor
Philip Morehead
Jan. 11 – 21 

The Mikado - Gary Griffin

Director
Gary Griffin

 


Designer
Mark Thompson*

 


Lighting Designer
Christine Binder

 


Chorus Master
Donald Nally

 

*Lyric Debut

Mikado Article

The Mikado was given in Baltimore last year without the change of a line. Not one of Gilbert’s jests of 1885 was omitted; not a single “local hit” was inserted to help out the comedians. And yet, after a quarter of a century, how delightfully brisk and breezy it seemed! How the crowds laughed once more at Pooh-Bah’s grotesque speeches and at the Mikado’s incomparable song! And how Sullivan’s tripping music tickled the ear! The world will be a long while forgetting Gilbert and Sullivan.
– H. L. Mencken writing on W. S. Gilbert’s death in the  Baltimore Evening Sun, May 30, 1911.

Nothing’s changed! The Mikado is just as fresh and delightful as ever. Since its 1885 premiere, Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s most popular operetta has been performed throughout the world, translated into several languages, and has been referenced and often satirized in motion pictures, stageplays, and even television shows.

The Mikado is one smart show,” says Gary Griffin, who will direct this season’s new production at Lyric. “It’s sharp and witty, a comedy about what we do for love rather than what we do for sex.”

Griffin, the associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, made his Lyric debut with last season’s The Merry Widow, a Viennese comedy more concerned with what we do for sex than love. He didn’t hesitate when The Mikado was proposed. “I’ve always loved The Mikado, so it wasn’t hard for me to take on,” he says. “There’s a delicate charm to it. The humor is simple and innocent and for it to work well, the audience has to sense that there is a light touch to everyone’s spirit.”

“These Gilbert and Sullivan works are the British equivalent of the Viennese operetta,” says Sir Andrew Davis, who will conduct The Mikado Dec. 6-Jan. 9 (Philip Morehead conducts Jan. 11-21). “We do them for the same reason we do The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus. The music is tremendously witty, but it always gets to the emotional heart of the matter.”

Gilbert’s text for The Mikado  is masterful – comic writing at its very best:

Behold the Lord High Executioner
A personage of noble rank and title —
A dignified and potent officer,
Whose functions are particularly vital!

Gilbert was 49 at the time of  The Mikado’s premiere. A major force in British literary circles, he began his working life as a civil servant, practiced law, and had pursued writing as an avocation. For many years he contributed writings and drawings to Fun, a humor weekly. Well before his first collaboration with Sullivan, Gilbert had written several stage plays and was considered a leading British dramatist.

Sullivan was seven years Gilbert’sjunior. The son of a bandmaster, he wrote music early on and had one of his songs published when he was only 13. Among his more famous songs were “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Lost Chord.” He studied in Leipzig, wrote numerous oratorios, symphonies, and concertos, and met Gilbert in 1871. Trial by Jury in 1875 was their first hit.

“Sullivan’s orchestration is deft,” says Davis. “That’s my favorite word for him. There’s a clarity and brilliance about his music that makes it so outstanding.”

Even though The Mikado takes place in Japan, not England, the story is classic G&S. Nanki-Poo has fallen in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum. She’s engaged to her guardian, Ko-Ko the tailor. But Ko-Ko has been condemned to death for flirting (a capital crime in the city of Titipu). He’s granted a reprieve and appointed to the post of Lord High Executioner. Because Ko-Ko was next in line for execution, he can’t cut off anyone else’s head until he cuts off his own! But the Mikado decrees that if no executions take place within one month, Titipu will be reduced from being a city to a mere village.

Ko-Ko faces the dilemma of how to escape his pending self-execution – and Nanki-Poo provides the solution: He wants to die rather than live without Yum-Yum. (Unbeknownst to everyone, Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado and he fled his father’s court to get away from the advances of the less-than-appealing Katisha.)

So Ko-Ko offers Nanki-Poo one month of living big, after which he’s to be painlessly decapitated. Nanki-Poo agrees on the condition that he can marry Yum-Yum immediately. Later it’s discovered that Titipu has an obscure and bizarre law on the books: the wife of any married man executed for flirting will be buried alive with her husband’s corpse!

Everyone arrives to celebrate Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum’s wedding but Katisha shows up to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. She fails at this but makes it clear that she will return.

In typical Gilbert and Sullivan topsyturvy fashion, the plot resolves itself: Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are married. Katisha finds love with Ko-Ko, and no one is ever executed or buried alive.

“I look at the two acts of this show as style and substance,” says Griffin. “The first act is all style – getting to know the characters – and the second act is full of heart. I’m most intrigued by Katisha. You think you know her character and then she comes out and sings,

‘Hearts do not break!
They sting and ache
For old love’s sake,
But do not die,
Though with each breath
They long for death
As witnesseth
The living I!
The living I!’”
 

“On the surface, Katisha’s a monster, vindictive and ambitious,” says Davis. “But then she sings ‘Hearts do not break’ and you realize she’s a woman who has missed all her opportunities, and you have great sympathy for her.”

Lyric’s production boasts major star power. James Morris, the world’s most celebrated Wotan, is the Mikado. Neal Davies, who was the Major General in Lyric’s 2003-04 production of The Pirates of Penzance, is Ko-Ko. Katisha will be played by Stephanie Blythe, who makes her Lyric debut as Ulrica earlier this season in Verdi’s A Masked Ball. Toby Spence makes his Lyric debut as Nanki-Poo, and Andriana Chuchman, who was Valencienne in last season’s The Merry Widow, is Yum-Yum. Andrew Shore sings the role of Pooh-Bah (he was Dikoj in last season’s Katya Kabanova, Frank in the 2006-07 Die Fledermaus, and Falstaff in 2007-08). Chicago favorite Philip Kraus is Pish-Tush, and Pitti-Sing is Katharine Goeldner. Costumes and scenery are designed by Mark Thompson (Lyric debut). Lighting is by Christine Binder. Donald Nally is the chorus master.

The action is placed in 1920s Japan, a time when Japan had been influenced by the West but retained plenty of the fabric and style of its ancient past. Mark Thompson’s sets have a sophisticated, Zen-like simplicity – bright color drops and plenty of bold patterns. His costumes are 1920s-flapper influenced but with an Asian twist. Thompson has done the production design for such Broadway hits as Mamma Mia! and Joseph

and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

“These characters are human, not cardboard cutouts who are actors in a silly drama,” says Davis. “The silliness, though, is part of the Gilbert and Sullivan charm. That’s one of the things about all G&S works: they have a daft quality to them. It’s very British.”

It is indeed very British, and very delightful. As the Mikado himself says, “Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.”

On the Record

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these recorded performances. 

 

CDs

Adams, Suart, McLaughlin, Rolfe Johnson, F. Palmer, Van Allan; Welsh National Opera, cond. Mackerras (Telarc)

Ayldon, Reed, Masterson, Wright, Holland, Sandford; D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, cond. Nash (Decca)

 

Despite the undeniable authenticity of the D’Oyly Carte performance, the loveliness of Valerie Masterson’s Yum-Yum, and the incomparable Kenneth Sandford’s Pooh-Bah, the first choice on CD is the Telarc performance. With the exception of Richard Suart (an expert Ko-Ko) and Donald Adams (a classic, standard-setting Mikado), the rest of Telarc’s cast does not have extensive background in operetta, but they project the text in every number with relish, and their actual vocalism is consistently more impressive than that of their D’Oyly Carte counterparts. The late Sir Charles Mackerras, renowned in seemingly every repertoire from Handel to Janáček, has long been one of the most knowledgeable and commanding interpreters of Gilbert and Sullivan, and he was definitely on his mettle in Telarc’s sparkling performance.

 


DVDs

Adams, Reed, Masterson, Potter, C. Palmer, Sandford; D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, cond. Godfrey, dir. Burge  (VAI)

 

The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company was always a genuine ensemble — the artists in this film performed this opera (G&S called their works operas, not operettas) hundreds of times together all over the world. Their physical characterizations and their delivery of the dialogue, as well as their music-making, all stem from the authentic traditions of G&S style carried down over the decades. The show is stolen by Valerie Masterson, one of the most accomplished sopranos in D’Oyly Carte history (she had an important career in “serious” opera after leaving the company, including Les contes d’Hoffmann at Lyric in 1982). The late John Reed, even with his slight voice, simply is Ko-Ko, crystalline in his projection of the words, whether in his patter song or “Tit-Willow.” The others are similarly at ease in their roles. This is a studio film, meaning that everyone lip-synchs the musical numbers, which is never ideal. Still, the rewards of watching the D’Oyly Carte company in action in G&S’s most popular work shows a degree of authenticity to equal that of witnessing La Scala performing Verdi or the Bolshoi in Tchaikovsky.

 

DVD of special interest

Topsy-Turvy: Corduner, Broadbent, Spall, Henderson, Manville, dir. Leigh.

Director Mike Leigh scored a triumph with his 1999 film Topsy-Turvy, essential viewing for anyone who enjoys Gilbert and Sullivan and is interested in the way they worked.  Their complex working relationship is fascinatingly revealed by Allan Corduner (Sullivan) and Jim Broadbent (Gilbert), as the two prepare the Mikado world premiere. The actors playing that production’s cast members all do their own singing. A standout, both on- and offstage, is the irresistible Shirley Henderson (possessor of one of the most distinctive speaking voices in movies), who plays Leonora Corbett, G&S’s first Yum-Yum.  The film, which reveals Victorian London in spectacular detail, justly deserved its Oscars for make-up and costume design. 

Video

World Premiere Press Conference

Lyric Opera of Chicago general director Anthony Freud, creative consultant Renée Fleming, and music director Sir Andrew Davis announced the 2015/16 world premiere commission of Bel Canto, based on the novel by Ann Patchett, at a media conference on February 28, 2012. The Bel Canto creative team includes composer Jimmy López, librettist Nilo Cruz, and director Stephen Wadsworth. Soprano Danielle de Niese will star.

World Premiere Press Conference

General director Anthony Freud invites members of the press to ask questions of himself, creative consultant Renée Fleming, music director and Bel Canto conductor Sir Andrew Davis, author Ann Patchett, composer Jimmy López, and librettist Nilo Cruz.

Backstage at Lyric #108

December 17, 2010

James Morris A legendary artist and a great Lyric favorite, American bass-baritone James Morris has long been celebrated throughout the world in many of the most formidable roles in the repertoire, including Wagner’s Wotan and Dutchman, Puccini’s Scarpia, and the four villains of Offenbach’s TALES OF HOFFMANN.  But Morris is also a big fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, and he was delighted to return to Lyric this season in the title role of THE MIKADO.  He discusses this amazing change of pace in conversation with Lyric broadcast host George Preston of 98.7WFMT.

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Backstage at Lyric #107

December 17, 2010

SpenceChuchman Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman, a Ryan Opera Center alumna who is rapidly establishing herself with important companies throughout North America, is returning to Lyric after her captivating portrayal of Valencienne in last season’s  Merry Widow. English tenor Toby Spence, a star of both of the major London companies and one of the most prominent British artists internationally, is debuting at Lyric Opera this season. These two singers play opposite each other in The Mikado as the two lovers, Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo.  In a conversation with Lyric dramaturg and broadcast commentator Roger Pines, Chuchman and Spence speak about their characterizations in the G&S work, and about Lyric’s new production.

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Backstage at Lyric #106

December 2, 2010

SirAndrewDavis100WLyric’s music director revealed his immense enthusiasm for Gilbert and Sullivan when he led the company premiere of The Pirates of Penzance (2003-04). Now he’s back on the podium for the new production of The Mikado, which he discusses in a lively conversation with the company’s dramaturg, Roger Pines.

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Backstage at Lyric #105

December 2, 2010

The Mikado DSOne of the most frequently performed stage works in history! Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado has delighted audiences since its 1885 premiere. Gary Griffin, Toby Spence and Neal Davies discuss the 125 year-old socio-political comedy and the two geniuses who created it.

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Sir Andrew Davis Previews

Wit, charm, fabulous music and lyrics — it's the most celebrated operetta in the English-speaking world, and it's been tickling funny bones for more than a hundred years!

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A STAR YOU SHOULD KNOW

July 19, 2010

Stephanie BlytheAmerican mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, acclaimed as one of the most thrilling singers of our time, sings Ulrica in A Masked Ball and then Katisha in The Mikado in her Lyric debut season.

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The Mikado Commentary

The Mikado
By W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

Commentary by William Mason, General Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

The Mikado Commentary

The Mikado
By W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

Commentary by William Mason, General Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.
 

The Mikado Commentary

The Mikado
By W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

Commentary by William Mason, General Director
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.