”"Each new incarnation, however absurd the premise, seems only to confirm the inherent strengths in the original material, in all its raucous energy and wit."Stuart MaunderDirector - The Mikado 2019
This Gilbert and Sullivan romp, The Mikado starts off State Opera South Australia’s season in repertory at the Adelaide Festival Centre.
Stuart Maunder is the Artistic Director of State Opera South Australia and also the director of many of this season’s performances including The Mikado.
There is no theatrical phenomenon in the Antipodes with the staying power of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Our love affair with G&S (and let’s face it, how many creators are instantly recognised by their initials alone?) is almost as enduring as the works themselves. In the 1870s, when policing copyright was much trickier than it is now, two rival “pirate” productions of H.M.S. Pinafore were playing across the street from one another in Melbourne. Smelling a great business opportunity J. C. Williamson, an American actor manager then working in Australia travelled to London to secure the copyright to all future G & S productions in Australia and New Zealand.
From that point on, this part of the world became one of D’Oyly Carte’s most prolific export markets. The first “official” production of The Mikado was playing in Australia only six months after the London premiere. The J.C.Williamson Company went on to tour the operas consistently throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Africa right up until the 1960s.
At the end of 1961, the copyright on the Gilbert and Sullivan operas expired, and companies all over the world relished the prospect of new productions. Since then, there have been countless ‘modern’ productions, ‘hot’ Mikados, ‘black’ Mikados, ‘jazz’ Mikados, an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Bart sings excerpts of Pinafore to calm a murderous Sideshow Bob and even an episode of The Muppet Show in which a seven-foot-tall talking carrot sang selections from “The Carrots of Penzance”. Each new incarnation, however absurd the premise, seems only to confirm the inherent strengths in the original material, in all its raucous energy and wit.
The G&S operetta’s durability is extraordinary but not unexplainable. After all, Gilbert’s dramatic situations are still funny, and Sullivan’s music succeeds in providing a kind of romantic foil to Gilbert’s pervasive drollery and cynicism. This kind of friction was very much at the heart of Gilbert and Sullivan’s creative relationship and the gentle satire alternating with genuine heartfelt emotion is a combination that never ages – indeed, perhaps it’s something we need now more than ever.
For generations of us, the first Gilbert and Sullivan in the theatre is a crucial formative experience. I have lost count of the number of people who’ve told me “my aunt took me to see Pinafore or Pirates when I was eight”…and how that sparked a lifelong love of the G&S canon, but also hooked them into the wonderful world of theatre as a whole.
So here’s to reviving a great tradition, and giving a whole new generation of Australians their own anecdotes about ‘my first G&S’.