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Gilbert, who had already started work on a new libretto in which people fall in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge, was surprised to hear of Sullivan's hesitation.
He wrote to Sullivan asking him to reconsider, but the composer replied on 2 April 1884 that he had "come to the end of my tether" with the operas: ...
Sullivan's close friend, the conductor Frederic Clay, had suffered a serious stroke in December 1883 that effectively ended his career.
Reflecting on this, on his own precarious health, and on his desire to devote himself to more serious music, Sullivan replied to Carte that "it is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself".
A handsome but poor minstrel, Nanki-Poo, arrives and introduces himself ("A wand'ring minstrel I").
He inquires about his beloved, a schoolgirl called Yum-Yum, who is a ward of Ko-Ko (formerly a cheap tailor).
Gilbert, having determined to leave his own country alone for a while, sought elsewhere for a subject suitable to his peculiar humour. One day an old Japanese sword that, for years, had been hanging on the wall of his study, fell from its place. Just at that time a company of Japanese had arrived in England and set up a little village of their own in Knightsbridge.
Gilbert was interviewed twice about his inspiration for The Mikado. His journalistic mind, always quick to seize on topicalities, turned to a Japanese Exhibition which had recently been opened in the neighbourhood.
One of the gentlemen, Pish-Tush, explains that when the Mikado decreed that flirting was a capital crime, the Titipu authorities frustrated the decree by appointing Ko-Ko, a prisoner condemned to death for flirting, to the post of Lord High Executioner ("Our great Mikado, virtuous man").
As Ko-Ko was the next prisoner scheduled to be decapitated, the town authorities reasoned that he could "not cut off another's head until he cut his own off", and since Ko-Ko was not likely to try to execute himself, no executions could take place.
The Mikado remains the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions.