Michael Cooper’s recent article in the New York Times prompts introspection.
Probably live performances of The Mikado will last only another decade or so, as this classic operetta is incontrovertibly racist.
This classic operetta is also an authentic work of human genius, arguably the finest example of its kind. But there’s a lot of great music out there; I guess we can afford to lose this particular item.
On the positive side, proper documentation of The Mikado will always exist. There are many recordings and the movie Topsy-Turvy is wonderful.
However, no record really will ever measure up to live performance, especially since The Mikado might be best served by enthusiastic amateurs in a collegiate or community theater who transcend their circumstances to produce a humble miracle of drama, comedy and music.
That’s really the sad thing, to lose amateur Mikados, but collegiate or community companies are the most vulnerable to political pressure.
Postmodern Mikados will now have their day in major venues, but it’s hard to imagine them maintaining much interest for too long. It’s only Gilbert and Sullivan, after all, not Wagner or someone else who can bear the weight of soul-searching investigation.
In Modern Music and After, Paul Griffiths writes of Cornelius Cardew’s move to the extreme left in the 1970’s:
“…The musical quality was not the point….Progress now, for Cardew and composers who thought like him, could only be political progress, and music must relinquish all its own hopes and histories in order to serve that cause.”
Shirley Henderson in Topsy-Turvy: