Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Clash of Symbols

A week and a bit back I went with the kids to see the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of The Mikado, for which Hilary was playing in the orchestra. (Not me this time: last year I was a stand-in for a missing violinist, but David Lyle the music director is extremely loyal to his regular players so nothing for me this year.) The production was excellent: Ian Lawson, EDGAS's long-time patter-song purveyor, has moved up from Ko-Ko to the Mikado this time, making room for the equally excellent Geoff Lee as the man with the cheap and chippy chopper. Similarly, Fiona Main (one of my work colleagues asked why she hadn't turned professional, and it's a fair question) having previously sung Pitti-Sing, Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo (in a hilarious production of the Farndale Mikado) has now graduated to perhaps my favourite of all G&S roles: Katisha. She's not nearly plain enough, of course (though when she reaches her line about being "sufficiently decayed" this does enable her to doff her kimono and prance around poor Ko-Ko in her undies: worth the price of admission all by itself) but quite fearsome enough to have seen off any suitors.

Here is my favourite Katisha scene, as portrayed in Mike Leigh's wonderful Topsy-Turvy:

On my way home, a snatch of verse kept running through my head: "Hooray, hooray, a symbolical day" which I eventually recognised as coming from Mark Twain's wonderful short story The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg. You can read the story here.

What is especially interesting about Twain's reference to the following number from The Mikado is that he makes an uncharacteristically careless error:

Here is Twain's reference:

"Hooray! hooray! it's a symbolical day!"

Somebody wailed in, and began to sing this rhyme (leaving out "it's") to the lovely "Mikado" tune of "When a man's afraid of a beautiful maid"; the audience joined in, with joy; then, just in time, somebody contributed another line -
"And don't you this forget --"

The house roared it out. A third line was at once furnished -

"Corruptibles far from Hadleyburg are --"

The house roared that one too. As the last note died, Jack Halliday's voice rose high and clear, freighted with a final line -

"But the Symbols are here, you bet!"

As you will have spotted when you watched the clip, W S Gilbert's actual words are "When a man's afraid, a beautiful maid (.....is a lovely sight to see)". Not "afraid OF a beautiful maid". Which really puzzled me as a teenager, because when I first read the story I'd never seen The Mikado, and then when I did see it I wondered where the "Hadleyburg" song was.

It is a strange day when one catches Mark Twain out in a mistake. What is even stranger is that as far as Google can tell me, nobody else has remarked on it. I have found one online version of Twain's story which corrects the error, but otherwise they all propagate the error without comment.


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