Holly Bewlay

An Opera-Lytes production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” is set to premiere this weekend at the Springville Center for the Arts.
Yum-Yum, the pert and perfect heroine of the comic operetta, has a special meaning for one actor in the show, soprano Holly Bewlay.
Bewlay learned English through singing when she was living in Oklahoma where there were few other Asians. The role of Yum-Yum was an important part of that learning process.
“Singing welcomed me to the world of (Gilbert and Sullivan), which included me to be part of a community,” Bewlay recalls. “Being an Asian in the show made me feel like I was allowed to be me, celebrated as an Asian, and I didn’t have to worry about ‘blending in.’”
This weekend, Bewlay, who is an associate professor of music at Buffalo State College and has recently sung the leads in “Madama Butterfly” and “Die Fledermaus” for Buffalo Opera Unlmited, will once again sing the role of Yum-Yum.
Also featured in the Opera-Lytes production at Springville Center for the Arts are tenor John Clayton as Nanki-Poo, mezzo-soprano Maria Goodrich as Katisha and baritone Ted Smeltz as Ko-Ko.
The inspiration for the operetta’s setting came to librettist W. S. Gilbert when he visited a Japanese cultural exhibition in 1885. The Mikado became one of the most frequently performed operas in history. The 1990s production that featured a young Holly Bewlay was directed by longtime D’Oyly Carte principal baritone John Reed, who was a famous interpreter of Ko-Ko.
Bewlay recalled, “Sir John Reed asked me to show the chorus members how to walk, how to open fans, and studied my make-up and hair. He was gentle and I felt respected. This was a great experience for an Asian teenager in Oklahoma on my journey to find myself.
“This ‘exotic’ world (Japan) that Gilbert and Sullivan were trying capture to entertain the Victorians somehow brought me closer to the ‘exotic’ world of America and G&S,” she said.
Tickets for “The Mikado” are available at springvillearts.org or by calling 592-9038. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 22, at 2 pm.