"Throughout my career I have made it a rule never to allow private feeling to interfere with my professional duties."
Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta "The Mikado" had its first adequate representation in the United States at the Fifth-Avenue Theatre last evening. "The Mikado" has heretofore been made known to American amusement seekers by the piano and vocal score of the work and by sundry more or less imperfect performances given with one or two clever artists in the cast, with an orchestral score constructed upon the piano score of the operetta, and with inexpensive scenery and dresses. Yesterday the English librettist and composer's latest achievement was brought forth with Mr. Sullivan's score, with a company trained in London to copy with absolute precision the English representation, and with stage attire of faultless accuracy and uncommon brilliancy. It would be surprising indeed if under such circumstances "The Mikado" which now attracts throngs to the Savoy Theatre, should not be received in this country with sufficient favor to warrant a prediction of its pretty durable success. Contrary to somewhat general belief, last evening's performance did not cast any new light upon the excellences of the libretto or upon the comparative weakness of the music. Even the unsatisfactory reading of Mr. Gilbert's lines when they were first spoken on the boards in this city, a fortnight since, showed that that witty dramatist and skilled versifier was at his best in his freshest contribution to the repertoire of operetta while the alternately thin and brassy instrumentation of the "unauthorized" score could not be held together accountable for the palpable want of originality and freshness of the melodies. Last night, however, revealed most clearly the grounds for the London popularity of "The Mikado". A performance of like smoothness and symmetry, characterized by such a mass of novel and curious "stage business" as the spectator beholds in the progress of the piece, and appealing to the eye by such variety of attitude and wealth of color, could not fail to give vitality to much poorer material than Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan have put into their most recent task.
This was the impression, we take it, mainly wrought by the interpretation of "The Mikado" on the occasion under notice. It would have been still more gratifying had it proved that the work rises to a higher plane than its previous production indicated, but perfect satisfaction is seldom gotten here below. The rendering of the English novelty, on the other hand, claims the heartiest commendation. The principal charm of the performance is to be sought, as implied, in its briskness and balance. It would be easy to find actors and actresses that would accomplish more with particular parts than do some of Mr. Carte's people, but it would be very difficult to bring together a troupe that would preserve so happily the intended tone of the picture and play more continuously and effectively into each other's hands. Some of the newcomers are naturally more gifted than others, but no positively bad performance marred the harmony of yesterday's representation. The only artist that did not fit into the frame quite as admirably as did her associates was Miss Geraldine Ulmer, a comely young person who sings delightfully, but whose delivery of the text is hurried and inexpressive. Miss Ulmer was engaged on this side of the Atlantic, and will probably fall into line in due season. The remaining performances all appear to have been well chosen. Mr. Federici who personates the Mikado, though not endowed with humor of a very communicative sort, sings his verses with an appreciation of accent and a clearness of enunciation that are delightful to listen to, and Mr. Pounds, the youthful tenor who embodies Nanki-Poo, uses with feeling and taste a voice of small range and power but of exquisite quality. Mr. F. Billington's Pooh-Bah, like Mr. Federici's Mikado, is not flavoured with very communicative drollery, but it is remarkable for consistent and fairly comical dignity, and Miss Elsie Cameron's Katisha is a respectable effort, though it does not add largely to the comic eloquence of the piece. The most important part, that of Ko-Ko, falls to Mr. G Thorne. Mr. Thorne's gymnastics and poses are extremely amusing, and last evening that called forth again and again storms of laughter and applause. The actor des not, however, turn Mr. Gilbert's text to as much advantage as could be wished, and, to instance only one portion of the operetta, it must be said that both he and Miss Elsie Cameron did little or nothing with the capital final duet in the second act. To Miss Ulmer's Yum-Yum reference has been made already. Her singing of the sentimental song at the outset of act the second could scarcely be surpassed, but the lady is too unskilled as an actress to realize the possibilities of the character allotted to her, and a wonderfully spirited delineation of Pitti-Sing, by Miss Kate Forster, had far more prominence than Miss Ulmer's more important role.
Passing from the individual labours of the company to other features of the performance, attention should be specially directed to the unceasing reproduction, by chorus as well as principals, of every known and unknown Japanese gesture and attitude. It is possible that a miscellaneous audience may not at first sight be stricken by the variety and quaintness of the scene constantly offered by the people on the stage, but its existence should none the less be noted. Another conspicuous trait of the representation at the Fifth-Avenue is the number and splendor of the Japanese costumes displayed during the evening. The scenery, though fresh and bright, has a rather unsubstantial look when contrasted with the heavy magnificence of the dresses and the massive forms, faces, and coiffures of the personages. Yesterday's performance ended at 11:30 p.m., having commenced somewhat later than announced, and having been retarded in its progress by incessant encores. The effect of "The Mikado" upon the large audience of genuine first-nighters was unmistakably good. Though the operetta is to be reckoned inferior to the composer's earlier works, it ought to outlive dozens of the commonplace and trashy semi-spectacular, semi-lyric pieces that every now and then, by jingling choruses and gaudy dresses, secure a temporary but remunerative hold upon public favor.
New York Times of 20 August 1885
On Thursay the 24th of September Sullivan conducted a special performance of The Mikado - at increased seat prices. The orchestra was augented to 40 players and the performance was received with much enthusiasm. Afterwards he made a speech to the audience.
The full text of Sir Arthur Sullivan's speech is as follows:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: Although I have made what I believe to be a wholesome rule through my life never to address an audience when I appear before them in an artistic capacity, I feel I must break through any rule on this occasion to acknowledge the kind reception you have given to me friend, Mr. Gilbert's, and my work, and also the gracious compliment you have paid me personally through your presence here to-night. As I am speaking for Mr. Gilbert as well as my self I can only regret that he is not here to share with me your congratulations and to thank you for them in words far more eloquent than I can hope to use. In his absence I must ask you to bear with me and to allow me to return you our sincere thanks for the generous appreciation of our latest joint work that you have displayed in so marked and cordial manner. We owe it to the extraordinary energy of our good friend and colleague Mr. D'Oyly Carte that our opera has been put before the American public in a manner sanctioned and approved by us, produced in fact under our personal supervision and in a style which thoroughly and accurately represents that which we wished to represent. The talented ladies and gentlemen who form this company have worked with enthusiasm and good-will impossible to praise too highly and difficult to acknowledge as we would wish. We should have been grieved indeed, had you received your first impressions of our opera from a spurious imitation - an imitation in which the authors' intentions are ignored, for the very good reason that the performers have had no opportunity of knowing what our intentions were, and in which the music from having been made up from pianoforte arrangement must necessarily be mutilated and be a misrepresentation of the meaning of the composer. I say we should have been grieved, indeed, if the American public, who have always given such a kind and hearty welcome to us and to our works, should have been misled into believing that a - (I mustn't use hard words) - an effort to forestall our performance was to be accepted as a representation of our original work. But, thanks to Mr. Carte, to the company, and to our loyal ally, Mr. John Stetson, this has been avoided, and to-night you see our work exactly as we intended it should be performed. It may be that some day the legislators of this magnificent country, which I have lately traversed from East to West, may see fit to afford the same protection to a man who employes his brains in literature and art that they do to one who invents a new beer tap or who accidentally gives an extra turn to a screw, doing away with the necessity of boring a hole first. In that day those unfortunate managers and publishers who, having no brains of their own, are content to live by - well, annexing the brain property of others, will be in an embarrassing and pitiable condition, and I for one will promise them my warmest sympathy. But even when that day comes, as I hope and believe it will come, we, the authors and creators, shall still, as we do now, trust mainly to the unerring instinct of the great public for what is good, right, and honest, and we shall still be deeply grateful, as I am to-night to you, ladies and gentlemen, for your cordial appreciation, your quick sympathy, and your generous recognition of our efforts to interest and entertain you. I again beg to thank you for your kinds welcome to-night, and bid you farewell.
From the New York Times of 25 September 1885