The Athenæum
1885 March 21
MUSIC. THE WEEK. SAVOY THEATRE. – ‘The Mikado,’ a Japanese Opera in Two Acts. Written by W. S. Gilbert, composed by Arthur Sullivan.
unsigned review

HITHERTO the musical and dramatic elements in Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s fantastic operas have maintained such equality that it was scarcely possible to say whether their success was due to the witticisms of the author or the taking melodies of the composer. In ‘Princess Ida’ the balance was slightly disturbed in favour of the latter, and if ‘The Mikado’ attains the popularity of its predecessors it will be mainly on account of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s share in the work. Mr. Gilbert has once more exhibited his facility for seizing upon a subject occupying a considerable share of public attention, and turning it to humorous account. Japanese art is extremely fashionable just at present, and the manners and customs of this strange race may be studied with advantage at Knightsbridge. But it is our home political and social life that is principally caricatured in ‘The Mikado,’ and amid much that is incisive and telling we find obvious reminiscences of earlier productions by the same hand. The pluralist official Poo Bah soliloquizes concerning his conflicting duties in much the same manner as did the Lord Chancellor in ‘Iolanthe,’ and the elderly and unattractive Katisha is not unlike Lady Jane in ‘Patience.’ Other resemblances might be quoted; but it will be sufficient to say in general terms that the vein of cynical topsyturvydom which has been so long worked with success at length shows signs of exhaustion. On the other hand, the score of the new opera exhibits Sir Arthur Sullivan at his best. It would be going too far to assert that the composer has taken a new departure in the matter of style; but he has been singularly successful in avoiding the danger of repeating himself, and most of the numbers are not only elegant and refined, but pleasantly fresh in manner. Those in which popular forms of composition are intentionally caricatured are excellent – such as the minstrel’s song, in which imitations of favourite sentimental ballads and nautical ditties are introduced. In others, musicianship of a high order is noticeable. The finale to the first act is capitally constructed, and the concerted pieces in the manner of old-world madrigals and glees are very charming. In brief, it may be said that Sir Arthur Sullivan has written a score as superior to ordinary opéra-bouffe as Mozart’s ‘Le Nozze’ is to Bellini’s ‘Sonnambula.’ The pity is that so much ability should be employed on productions which from their very nature must be ephemeral. In the performance of ‘The Mikado’ perfection of ensemble is very nearly attained. It cannot be said that prominence is given to any one character, but the vocal honours are borne away by Miss Rosina Brandram, whose singing stamps her as a lyric artist of no ordinary excellence. Miss L. Braham, Miss Jessie Bond, Mr. R. Temple, Mr. Durward Lely, and Mr. R. Barrington demand favourable mention, but Mr. Grossmith is not so well suited as usual. The characteristics of Japanese art are reproduced with wonderful fidelity in the scenery, costumes, and groupings, the stage management, as usual at this theatre, being wholly unexceptionable.