The programme of The King's Singers provides a fine opportunity to give 'Topsy-Turvy' a showing for our concert-goers. This 1999 film is something of a one-off in the work of the British film director Mike Leigh, known among the art-house public chiefly for his social dramas. Nonetheless, this musical print proved to be a great hit and won two Oscars. Leigh takes us back to the Victorian England of 1884, zooming in on a year in the life of the composer Arthur Sullivan and his collaborator, the librettist William Gilbert.
Gilbert and Sullivan harvested a great deal of success with their comic operas, full of witty dialogue and honeyed melodies. The occasion of an exhibition on Japan gave Gilbert the bright idea of setting a love story in that country. The result was 'The Mikado', which became the duo's most popular opera, chalking up no less than six hundred and forty performances at London's Savoy Theatre. The Japanese setting, by the way, proved an ideal means of subtly satirizing British politics and institutions.