Music by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan
Libretto by Sir William S. Gilbert
Premiered on March 14th, 1885 at the Savoy Theatre in London.
Last performed by Kentucky Opera in the 1996/97 Season.
In the courtyard of Ko-Ko’s palace in Titipu, the men affirm their nobility as Nanki-Poo enters excitedly searching for Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko. Traveling as a minstrel, Nanki-Poo (who is secretly the Mikado’s son) has fled his father’s palace to escape marriage to Katisha, an elderly lady of the court. Ko-Ko, (who is, coincidentally, in love with Yum-Yum) has been sentenced to death for flirting. Nanki-Poo travels Titipu to seek the status of Ko-Ko’s execution, and hopefully marry Yum-Yum.
During his journey, Nanki-Poo encounters Pooh-Bah (a corrupt public official) and Pish-Tush (a nobleman). Pish-Tush informs Nanki-Poo that not only has Ko-Ko been pardoned unexpectedly, but he has also been appointed to the exalted rank of Lord High Executioner. Nanki-Poo falls into deep despair upon learning of Ko-Ko’s immediate plans to marry Yum-Yum.
Curiously, there have been no executions in Titipu since Ko-Ko became the Lord High Executioner. Ko-Ko receives orders from the Mikado to execute someone, lest he lose his exalted status. While Ko-Ko ponders his dilemma, Nanki-Poo appears, vowing suicide because he cannot marry Yum-Yum.
Upon hearing Nanki-Poo’s suicidal cry, Ko-Ko offers Nanki-Poo the opportunity to marry Yum-Yum for one month, in exchange for becoming Ko-Ko’s next (and first) execution victim. Suddenly, Katisha appears and discovers Nanki-Poo, the object of her unrequited love. After being driven away, she rushes to inform the Mikado of his wandering son’s whereabouts.
As Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo prepare for their wedding, Ko-Ko arrives having discovered a shocking law: when a married man is executed, his widow must be buried alive. Yum-Yum is unwilling to continue the marriage under these new circumstances and cancels the wedding. Nanki-Poo asks Ko-Ko to behead him to relieve his sorrow. To their surprise, Ko-Ko has never executed anyone and is too gentle to follow through. However, he must execute someone or suffer decapitation by the Mikado.
Nanki-Poo schemes to save Ko-Ko’s life by falsifying his own execution. In exchange, Nanki-Poo must be allowed to marry Yum-Yum and leave the country forever. Desperately, Ko-Ko agrees.
The Mikado arrives in Titipu with Katisha. Believing that the Mikado’s visit is to confirm the execution, Ko-Ko produces an affidavit and proceeds to describe the execution with fervor. The Mikado, who had hoped to reunite with his missing son, declares Ko-Ko and his ministers guilty of “composing the death of the Heir Apparent.” Their only hope to avoid execution is to produce Nanki-Poo alive.
Nanki-Poo hesitates to reveal his identity, fearing retribution from Katisha. However, In order to resolve the matter, he persuades Ko-Ko to woo and wed Katisha. All reconcile as the city of Titipu celebrates Nanki-Poo’s marriage to Yum-Yum and Ko-Ko’s marriage to Katisha.