Savoy Theatre, Strand, London
Gilbert sat in his study. On the wall hung a large Japanese executioner’s sword. There was an unmistakable feeling for all things Japanese in the air. Thirty years earlier the Queen had sent the Emperor of Japan a warship as a present from the British people. The Japanese were given permission to travel outside of their own country. A display of Japanese arts and crafts at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London inspired a vogue for Japanese design.
When the Japanese sword fell from Gilbert’s wall it suggested to him the outline for an entirely new opera, and he wrote to Sullivan to suggest the idea. When the rehearsals for the opera began there was already a Japanese village on exhibition at Knightsbridge.
Never slow to take an opportunity when it offered itself, a male dancer and Geisha girl were hired to coach the company as to the correct oriental manner and makeup.
The Mikado opened at the Savoy on 14th March 1885, when the curtain rose to reveal the town of Titipu, ‘like an enormous Japanese fan’. To paraphrase the innumerable critics ‘The Mikado’ was ‘frank’, ‘ palpable’, ‘magnificent’ and an ‘unbounded success’. So much so that one critic was moved to exclaim, ‘Sir Arthur Sullivan’s and Mr. W.S. Gilbert’s new Japanese opera, The Mikado, is subject to one disadvantage, and only one – the difficulty of getting sight of it. Such is the anxiety of the public to witness it, that, though the theatre were twice as large as it is, it would not suffice for the accommodation of all comers’
The Mikado ran at the Savoy until 19th January 1887.