Gilbert and Sullivan, like their Victorian contemporaries, were fascinated with Japan, said Anne Woodcock, president of the Savoy, considered the oldest amateur company in the world devoted to the pair's music. Like most of the duo's operas, such as "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Mikado" is a satire. It used Japan's strict social hierarchy to comment on England's similarly strict class structure of that era.
First performed in 1885, "Mikado" still tantalizes audiences today. "It has the longevity of ‘Madame Butterfly,'?" Woodcock said, referring to Puccini's tragic opera also set in Japan. "It's [“Mikado"] the most-performed opera in the world.”
According to Woodcock, comedy has helped keep Gilbert and Sullivan's work popular. "One of the things that makes Gilbert and Sullivan last is that they present an accessible way to see a musical show," she said.
The Savoy's shows are always classic productions. The vocalists have been trained in opera; the company has hosted guest performers from New York's Metropolitan Opera. They also perform with a full orchestra. Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado Ted Christopher, a principal from the Ohio Light Opera, is directing this year's production of "Mikado."
Typically, the Savoy has four performances each year — two indoors and two outside. While the Academy of Music usually hosts the indoor performances, earlier this month the group performed in Wilmington's DuPont Theater for the first time. The outdoor performances will be held, as always, in the outdoor amphitheater at Longwood Gardens, built specifically for Savoy performances.
The setting offers a great opportunity to appreciate Gilbert and Sullivan's unique art, which, unlike a traditional Broadway show, was designed entirely around the music. "Their work is something more than a musical," Woodcock said. "Some people sort of disdain Gilbert and Sullivan as sort of trite, but it's real, great music."
"The Mikado," Longwood Gardens, Route 1, Kennett Square, 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday?, $27, 215-735-7161, www.savoy.org.
Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.