Major Operas | The Mikado by Arthur Sullivan | Turn of the Century

Composed: 1884–85
Premiered: 1885, London
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert

Act I

The Mikado’s son, Nanki-Poo, has fled from court to avoid marrying Katisha and is now wandering Japan as a second trombone. He has returned to Titipu on hearing that Ko-Ko, his rival for Yum-Yum, has been condemned to death for flirting. Ko-Ko, however, has been reprieved and appointed Lord High Executioner. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum declare their love for each other, so far as the law allows. Word arrives from the Mikado that unless someone is beheaded within a month the city will be reduced to a village. The only person on the death-list is Ko-Ko. He must find a substitute, an honour that Pooh-Bah, who holds every other official post, declines. Nanki-Poo agrees on condition that he marries Yum-Yum for a month, after which she may marry Ko-Ko. The celebrations are interrupted by Katisha, who claims her perjured lover.

Act II

Nanki-Poo tries to brighten Yum-Yum’s spirits when she realizes she will be a widow within a month. Ko-Ko discovers that, by law, when a married man is beheaded his wife is buried alive. They plot a fake execution. The Mikado arrives, accompanied by Katisha. After exaggerated accounts of the beheading, Katisha sees Nanki-Poo’s name on the death certificate. Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing are to be executed after lunch for slaying the heir apparent. Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo, now married, persuade Ko-Ko to woo the monstrous, bloodthirsty Katisha. She is won over by Ko-Ko’s tale of a bird pining away for love. Everything is ready for the triple execution. Katisha pleads for mercy for her new husband. Nanki-Poo enters with Yum-Yum. Ko-Ko claims that the Mikado’s word is law. If he orders a man to be killed he is as good as dead. The Mikado finds this very satisfactory.

Personalities | Arthur Sullivan | Turn of the Century | Opera


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