The plot may sound twisted, but it’s typical Gilbert and Sullivan.
Their comedic opera, “The Mikado,” which the LSU Opera is performing this weekend, is set in the Japanese town of Tipitu, where flirting is a capital crime. Ko-Ko has been appointed as Lord High Executioner, but he’s also been convicted of flirting and has been ordered to execute himself before killing the others.
This frustrates the authorities, because there’s no way Ko-Ko is going to kill himself. After all, suicide also is a capital offense in Tipitu. But the young trombonist Nanki-Poo is considering it, because he can’t marry his love, Yum-Yum, who happens to be the ward of Ko-Ko, who also has his eye on Yum-Yum.
So Ko-Ko devises a solution: Nanki-Poo can marry Yum-Yum for a month, after which he will agree to be executed so Ko Ko can step in and marry the weeping widow.
Mikado is the title for the emperor of Japan, and Nanki-Poo is the Mikado’s son, but that’s his secret. He’s disguised himself as a poor musician after escaping an arranged marriage in his father’s imperial court.
This operetta is said to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular work.
“Gilbert and Sullivan were like the rest of Britain at the time in that they were very interested in the Orient and its exoticism,” says director Dennis Jesse, an associate professor of voice at LSU. “They made fun of life by making fun of the absurdities around them.”
In “The Mikado,” they were able to make fun of absurdities in British society by distancing the story to Japan.
“Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas are like Shakespeare in that they wrote in a certain style,” Jesse says. “When you hear it, you understand it. The music is accessible, and there’s always a light story.”
The LSU Opera condensed the 90-minute show into an hour for its tour earlier in the week.
“This was our first outreach tour,” Jesse says. “We’ve expanded the production into the full opera for our performances in the Shaver. It’s been a busy week for a lot of our students. A lot of them have done more this semester than they’ve done in the time they’ve been here.”
Some of the singers also performed recently in LSU Opera’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Last week, some singers were also in school and public performances of Opera Louisiane’s production of Englebert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” which also was directed by Jesse.
“We’ve all been busy,” says McKenzie Miller, who plays Yum-Yum in “The Mikado.” “But it’s been a great learning experience for me.”
Miller also played Joanna in “Sweeney Todd,” a character who, like Yum-Yum, is under the care of a guardian who has his sights set on her. She plays a Dew Fairy in “Hansel and Gretel.”
The three productions were written in different genres with “Hansel and Gretel” as a classic European opera, “The Mikado” as a comic operetta and “Sweeney Todd” considered a Broadway show.
“This semester has been a great education,” says Miller, a graduate student from Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s been a wonderful experience and challenging in all ways.”
Miller describes Yum-Yum as young, bubbling, energetic and eager.
“But she’s also looking out for herself,” she says.
A revelation in Tipitu’s flirting law will give her second thoughts about a month-long marriage to Nanki-Poo, which destroys Ko-Ko’s plans and leaves Nanki-Poo forlorn.
That’s when the Mikado makes his entrance, but is it in time to save the day? The answer is left up to Gilbert and Sullivan, where love is rampant in a flirting-starved land.