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The Mikado

The Mikado, or "The Town of Titipu", is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts. The music is by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan and the libretto by Sir William S. Gilbert. It was first produced in March 1885 in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances. It remains one of the most popular of Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas.

It should be noted that the versions of the culture and government of Japan in this work are based on the notions of Victorian era England on the subject, and are further altered by the satirical tone of the work. Indeed, Victorian England is the target of Gilbert's satire, thinly disguised as a strange and distant land.

The best known recent film use of this play used in the 1999 film, Topsy Turvy in which the story of the play's creation is dramatized along with various musical selections.

Table of contents
1 Plot


Act I

Leading gentlemen of the Japanese town of Titipu gather for an impending celebration ("If you want to know who we are"). A wandering musician, Nanki-Poo, enters and introduces himself ("A wandring minstrel I"). He has come to search for the maiden Yum-Yum, with whom he has fallen in love. Alas, the officious official Pooh-Bah informs him, Yum-Yum is to marry her guardian Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, very shortly. Yum-Yum appears with two of her friends, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing ("Three little maids from school"). Nanki-Poo reveals his secret to Yum-Yum: he's actually the son and heir of the Mikado, ruler of Japan, but fled the court due to the amorous advances of Lady Katisha.

Ko-Ko arrives and introduces himself ("I've got a little list") and rejoices in his upcoming marriage. His enthusiasm is cut short by receiving news that the Mikado will soon be arriving for a visit; as Ko-Ko is behind on his quota of executions (never having performed one) this means someone must be executed at once, and the others look to Ko-Ko himself as the perfect subject ("I am so proud"). Later, Ko-Ko discovers Nanki-Poo preparing to commit suicide, and makes a bargain with him: Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum for one month, if at the end of that time he allows himself to be executed. This happy agreement is nearly spoiled by Katisha, who arrives and tries to claim Nanki-Poo ("Oh fool"), but is drowned out by the crowd's rejoicing ("For he's going to marry Yum-Yum").

Act II

Yum-Yum is being prepared by her friends for her wedding ("Braid the raven hair"). They depart, leaving her to muse on her own beauty ("The sun whose rays"). Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum share an affectionate scene, interrupted when Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah enter, and warn them of a twist in the law that requires the wife of an executed man to be buried alive. Nanki-Poo, threatened with the loss of his wedding, proposes to die on the spot; the soft-hearted Ko-Ko instead sends him away, promising to report a fictitious execution.

"His teeth, I've enacted,
Shall all be extracted
By terrified amateurs."
(Cartoon by Gilbert)

The Mikado and Katisha arrive for the promised visit ("A more humane Mikado"). Ko-Ko, aided by Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, gives a graphic description of the supposed execution ("The prisoner cried"), only to be stunned by the news that Nanki-Poo was the Heir Apparent. Facing a death sentence himself for executing the Heir, Ko-Ko pleads with Nanki-Poo to return. Nanki-Poo agrees - on the condition that Katisha is safely married off first. Ko-Ko therefore discovers Katisha mourning her loss ("O living I"), throws himself on her mercy ("Tit-willow") and begs her hand in marriage ("There is beauty in the bellow of the blast"). She agrees, and begs mercy for him from the Mikado; Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum put in an appearance; and the inhabitants all celebrate the subtitution of marriages for executions ("For he's gone and married Yum-Yum.").