Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
Or, The Town of Titipu
Plot summary from the book "The Victor Book of the Opera," RCA
Manufacturing Co., Camden, NJ, 1936.
COMIC opera in two acts; text by W. S. Gilbert; music by Sir
Arthur Sullivan. First produced at the Savoy Theatre, London,
March 14, 1885. First performance in the United States, July 6,
1885, at the Museum, Chicago.
Not without reason is this one of the most popular of the long
line of "Savoy Operas," for Gilbert's text is a masterpiece of
comic writing to which Sullivan's ever tuneful music is perfect]y
adapted, serving in a remarkable manner to set off the amusing
character of the words. The Japanese setting supplies a
refreshingly colorful background, although, of course the
characters are by no means Japanese, but ourselves in a very thin
After the captivating overture composed of some of the choicest
melodies from the opera, the curtain rises on the courtyard of
Ko-Ko's palace at Titipu. Japanese nobles who are gathered there
sing a lively chorus revealing their identity:
- If you want to know who we are,
- We are gentlemen of Japan . . .
Nanki-Poo enters excitedly, carrying a native guitar and a bundle
of ballads. He asks to be directed to the maiden Yum-Yum, the
ward of Ko-Ko. In turn the nobles ask his own identity. He
replies with the song, "A Wandering Minstrel I." He offers them
his wares, that is, his songs -- sentimental, patriotic or
Pish-Tush asks his business with Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo replies that
a year ago he saw Yum-Yum and immediately fell in love with her,
but at that time she was betrothed to her guardian, Ko-Ko. Now,
having heard that Ko-Ko is condemned to death for flirting, he
has come to see Yum-Yum. Pish-Tush replies that Ko-Ko has been
pardoned and made Lord High Executioner; this happened under the
remarkable circumstances he relates in the song, "Our Great
Thereupon, the Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah, enters and,
singing the song, "Young Man, Despair," tells him to give up
hope, for Yum-Yum is to marry Ko-Ko this very day. Nanki-Poo's
lament is cut short by the arrival of Ko-Ko himself, entering in
state with his attendants who sing the rousing chorus "Behold the
Lord High Executioner!"
Thanking them for their reception, he sings the amusing song,
"I've got a little list of society offenders who might well be
underground" -- possibilities for his own professional
employment! Soon there enters a procession of Yum-Yum's
school-mates singing their girlish chorus "Comes a train of
little ladies from scholastic trammels free." Immediately after
appears Yum-Yum herself with her two sisters, Peep-Bo and
Pitti-Sing, "Three little maids from school." The girls happen
to offend the haughty Pooh-Bah, so are obliged to beg his pardon,
singing "So please you, sir, we much regret if we have failed in
Then all depart, save Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum. The young man at
once declares his love and reveals to Yum-Yum that he is none
other than the son of the Mikado. He has assumed this disguise
in order to avoid marrying an elderly lady of the court, Katisha,
who has claimed him. The couple sing their duet, "Were you not to
Ko-Ko plighted," saying that if Yum-Yum were not engaged to Ko-Ko
they would loudly kiss one another, and audibly demonstrate how
it would be done. Then each goes away sorrowfully.
Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush enter with a letter for Ko-Ko from the
Mikado who, struck by the fact that no one has been beheaded in
Titipu for a year, threatens to abolish the office of Lord High
Executioner unless somebody is executed within a month. In the
trio they sing, "I am so proud," each of the men declines the
honor of decapitation, Ko-Ko because of his duty to Titipu, Pooh-
Bah because he must mortify his family pride, and Pish-Tush
really doesn't greatly care. Curiously enough, at this moment
Nanki-Poo enters, carrying a rope with which he intends to hang
himself for sorrow at the loss of Yum-Yum. Ko-Ko suggests that
Nanki-Poo allow himself to be executed instead. After some
argument Nanki-Poo consents, on condition that he be permitted to
marry Yum-Yum at once -- the execution to be a month later.
Ko-Ko reluctantly agrees. The nobles and ladies enter to learn
the decision, Ko-Ko announces that Yum-Yum is to marry Nanki-Poo,
and all rejoice, singing merrily "The threatened cloud has passed
away." Suddenly the dreaded Katisha appears, declaring
melodramatically, "Your revels cease." She balefully claims
Nanki-Poo her own, but Pitti-Sing laughing replies that they are
not concerned with her connubial views --
For he's going to marry Yum-Yum
Your anger pray bury,
For all will be merry,
I think you had better succumb.
The tottering and wicked Katisha then turns to Nanki-Poo,
declaring: "Oh, faithless one . . . I'll tear the mask from your
disguising!" But as soon as she begins her denunciation, "He is
the son of your . . ." Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum interrupt, singing
Japanese words loudly and drowning out her voice. Thus
repeatedly foiled, Katisha furiously vows vengeance, while all
the others sing merrily, "For joy reigns everywhere around!"
Yum-Yum is attended by her maidens who, while preparing her for
the wedding, sing the graceful chorus, "Braid the raven hair,"
and Pitti-Sing interpolates a short solo, "Sit with downcast
eye.... Try if you can cry." Yum-Yum, gazing in the mirror, is
thrilled by her own loveliness and expresses her appreciation of
it in the song:
- The sun whose rays
- Are all ablaze
- With ever-living glory,
- Does not deny
- His majesty,
- He scorns to tell a story!
Reminded that her married happiness is to be "cut short," Yum-Yum
bursts into tears; Nanki-Poo enters and tries to console her.
With a forced, melancholy laugh, Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo,
and Pish-Tush attempt a cheerful quartet, "Brightly dawns our
wedding day," but each time their "Sing a merry madrigal-Fal-la!"
ends in sorrow.
Their unhappiness is further augmented when Ko-Ko enters with the
exciting news that a law has just been discovered which decrees
that when a married man is beheaded his wife is to be buried
alive. So far the law has never been put into force, for the
only crime punishable with decapitation is flirting, and of
course, married men never flirt.
Yum-Yum complains that burial alive is such a stuffy death: yet
if Nanki-Poo releases her she will have to marry Ko-Ko. With
reason do they break into the incomparable Trio, "Here's a
how-de-do!" A moment later the stately Japanese melody played at
the opening of the overture is heard, and a procession enters,
singing Japanese words, "Miya sama," announcing the arrival of
the Mikado, who enters, accompanied by Katisha, "His
The Mikado introduces himself with the song, "A more humane
Mikado never did in Japan exist," having a delicious Gilbertian
- My object all sublime
- I shall achieve in time--
- To let the punishment fit the crime.
Pooh-Bah now comes forward to assure the Mikado that his wishes
have been respected, the execution has just taken place; Ko-Ko,
Pitti-Sing, and Pooh-Ball describe it graphically in their song,
"The criminal cried." Although the Mikado is gratified at the
news, this was not the purpose of his coming; he really is
seeking his son, who is reputed to be in Titipu, disguised under
the name of Nanki-Poo.
At this moment Katisha, who is reading the death certificate,
finds the name there -- Nanki-Poo beheaded! Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and
Pitti-Sing pretend to be dismayed to think that they have
executed the Heir Apparent. The Mikado reminds them that they
will have to be punished for this; he is not the least angry, but
the laws decree that "compassing the death of the Heir Apparent,"
they shall be punished by boiling in oil, or by some similar
protracted torture. Such is the injustice of Fate, of which they
sing in the Glee, "See how the Fates their gifts allot."
The Mikado and Katisha go away, and while the trio remain
bemoaning their luck, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum appear, ready to
start on their honeymoon. The unlucky trio attempt to persuade
Nanki-Poo to "come back to life," but the Prince, wishing to be
free of Katisha, refuses unless Ko-Ko will himself marry her;
then, he says, life will be as welcome as "The flowers that bloom
in the spring." Ko-Ko replies with the unforgettable lines:
- The flowers that bloom in the spring,
- Tra la,
- Have nothing to do with the case.
- I've got to take under my wing,
- Tra la,
- A most unattractive old thing,
- With a caricature of a face . . .
All go out and Katisha enters, singing "Alone, and yet alive!"
To her now comes Ko-Ko, declaring a passionate love for her. When
she sternly refuses him, he sings the pathetic story of a bird's
unhappy affection, "Willow, tit-willow." Katisha is so moved by
his song and his threatened death from a broken heart that she
yields, and even asks if he does not mind that she is the least
wee bit bloodthirsty. Ko-Ko finds beauty even in
bloodthirstiness, and the two sing their duet, "There is beauty
in the bellow of the blast," then go away together joyfully. The
Mikado now enters ready to behold the execution of the three
A moment later they rush in, but Katisha is with them, and
implores mercy for she has married Ko-Ko. The Mikado hesitates
since the law must be enforced. The situation is saved by the
appearance of Nanki-Poo whose non-execution is marvelously
explained, all then taking their turns in the exhilarating
finale, "For he's gone and married Yum-Yum!"
24 August, 2011