The Mikado’ was a remarkable work of art that was composed by Arthur Sullivan in the 19th century and was premiered in London’s Savoy Theatre in 1885. The content of this whimsical, romantic and satirical tale was set in an imaginary Japanese town called Titipu and has proved to be the most popular work of art from the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas in more than a century. The falling of a Japanese decorative sword that was hanged in Gilbert’s study inspired Sullivan to write comic opera as a reflection of Japanese tradition in Western art. By the end of the 19th century, more European artists were using Japanese motifs to paint or Japanese subjects in their work of art. Gilbert and Sullivan were theatrical partners in the Victorian era and worked jointly to create fourteen comic opera between the 1870s and 1900. Gilbert had a talent of wit and sarcasm from an early age, and his aptitude for language proved his greatest asset in achieving his dream. Sullivan was born of a musical family, and through his father, he was able to master playing of musical instruments and composing music. Sullivan was Gilbert’s student who later goes interested in sharing his knowledge with his teacher who helped him compose and write some of his plays.
Their collaboration in writing was aimed at commentating on the Victorian political and social hypocrisy through art. Thesis statement This study will seek to understand the influence of Eastern (Asian) culture in a Western Operetta through the Sullivan’s play ‘Mikado’ by analyzing the historical context, western engagement with Asian and other related Western opera. Research Approach The research approach to be used in this thesis will involve analysis of secondary data from British and Japanese libraries and theatres. Ethnographic research would be the most familiar and applicable type of qualitative method to be used in understanding the cultural phenomena resulting from Sullivan and Gilbert’s literature.
Preliminary results and discussion Satire was identified as one of the reasons that will be identified as the main reason for using Asian culture in western setting while writing the operas. Sullivan and Gilbert widely chose the topic of Asian culture to discuss the issues in the British context. This trend led to the creation of more authentic Japanese work in Europe and America by non-Japanese artists dominating the original artwork from the East. Japanaiserie was the term used about the Western art reflecting Japanese tradition.
For example, McNeil Whistler painted numerous portraits of English women of Victorian-era wearing kimonos, standing near decorative screens while holding fans. In ‘The Mikado’ Gilbert and Sullivan would have aimed a representing and reflecting the Japanese society but they instead chose to use the eastern concept to write a satirical tale of contemporary England. The setting of the play disguises the true subjects of its commentaries just like most of the collaborator’s comic operas which were purposely set to represent political and social hypocrisy of the Victorian era. This satirical play (The Mikado) was written after ‘Princess Ida’ where the author started his disguise in social commentary behind the veneer of the fantastic and historic atmosphere of collaboration between Europe and Asia.
Despite having a Japanese setting, other qualities in the play such as the attitude, speech and the behaviours of the characters were decidedly British. The setting of the play (Titipu) was just a mythical place; it is today an actual Japanese town located north of Tokyo. However, Sullivan only used the name of the own and western images of Japan to create an impression of an Asian town that is a wonderland of topsy-turvy conventions. Japan as a region outside the Western sphere was used in this case as a mirror which the society could reflect on the restrictive social codes, moral hypocrisy and the ruthless self-important politicians of Britain at the time. Implications of researchThis research will be helpful in identifying the connection between Asianculture in the western world through the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. Thestudy will focus on understanding the extent to which the Eastern influenced inthe Western operetta through the Arthur Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ and otherperformances in the British theatres.