Given his new position as Lord High Executioner, the wily Ko-Ko needs to find someone to execute, or there’ll be dire consequences – but it so happens he has a little list…
As fans of The Mikado may be aware, the aria ‘I’ve got a Little List’ (also known as ‘As some day it may happen’) is a remarkable aria in one key sense: in almost every production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the lyrics are completely rewritten. This practice came about after Gilbert’s departure from the Savoy Theatre, where he also acted as director – notorious for imposing fines on performers who didn’t adhere to the script and characterisation originally intended.
Whilst some changes to the song occurred throughout the years (some to facilitate poking fun at the politicians of the time, others for the sake of mirroring social changes, with certain words being taboo), the greatest change came in 1986, with Eric Idle taking the stage in English National Opera’s new Jonathan Miller production. With this new version of the opera staged in a 1930s hotel resort as opposed to the traditional Japanese setting, came an entirely rewritten ‘Little List’.
This sparked a new tradition in performances of The Mikado, with Ko-Kos around the world rewriting the lyrics of the song to reflect the social and political climate of their time/area, including jokes from the city they’re put on. This charming practice has continued to the present day, with each Ko-Ko writing new updated lyrics for their production.
So what could be the subjects of a ‘Little List’ in the year of 2019? You may notice on attending performances of The Mikado at the London Coliseum that ‘I’ve got a Little List’ is never surtitled, for reasons which are very simple. Our beloved Ko-Ko, Richard Suart (who has had a 30 year relationship with the role at English National Opera) writes the lyrics from scratch for each run, and even makes changes from performance to performance (Suart having said that the ‘Little List’ is often ‘still in gestation’ during the overture), depending on current affairs.
In saying this, Suart has plenty of ammunition to satirise. We would tell you what’s mentioned, but then we’d have to put you on the list! View our video below of a previous version of the ‘Little List’, to see what you might be getting yourself in for.
If you wish to hear more about the history of Little List parodies, Richard Suart and A.S.H. Blyth’s book They’d none of ‘em be missed is an in-depth look into the many versions of the ‘Little List’.