Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



Lisa Berglund: Let me begin by thanking David Craven for stimulating some interesting discussion; whether he does so out of sheer perversity or a penchant for devil's advocacy I'd rather leave to you. In particular, I was struck by David's point about how one's perceptions as a performer may shape one's view of an opera.

I must disagree with you, David, about the rigidity of IOLANTHE, at least from the female perspective. (I think you're essentially right about the reduced opportunity for innovation in the male roles.) Someone else ("Scynthius," I think) asked why we were not discussing the women of IOLANTHE, except perhaps en masse (en lump). Well, apart from the Fairy Queen, the principal roles aren't very interesting, are they? Okay, Iolanthe herself is a superb part--not too much work, one of the best songs in the canon, and great tear-jerking potential. I expect female choristers enjoy this opera (I've seen the opening chorus performed both lumpishly and daintily, and it works both ways), what with the fun of the first act finale in particular; however, a soloist with the ability to play Margaret or Phoebe or Psyche would probably find herself a bit frustrated with Leila, don't you think? And THAT is why inventiveness IS required from performers of this opera. The female chorus and principals are all dressed alike; they don't have solos that discriminate their personalities; and their dialogue doesn't offer much help either. So how do a Celia and a Leila figure out who they are?

Indeed, as we shall see, this challenge arises for the female principals (save for the soprano and the contralto) not only IOLANTHE, but also PATIENCE and PIRATES.

Judith Weis: But Lisa, the one who would do Margaret or Phoebe would in all likelihood do Iolanthe, not Leila.

Andrew Crowther: Steve Sullivan wrote: "How does the Queen of the Fairies stack up against Gilbert's other middle aged women?"

I think she comes out of it very well. She's imposing and dignified, and there are no jibes about her age etc. "I see no objection to stoutness, in moderation" doesn't strike me as objectionable, especially since we've just been told that Strephon, too, is inclined to stoutness. (See also the Stoutness jokes against Grosvenor, in Patience.)

I don't think Private Willis's line about soldiers ill-conweniencing themselves for females in distress should be taken too seriously. It sounds to me as if he's just indulging in a little dry humour. And incidentally, I don't quite understand why the speech about curling inside buttercups etc. should be taken as a jibe about the FQ's stoutness: surely the line "She certainly did surprising things!" simply means that these are daft and pointless things for _anyone_ to do, even the lissomest of the fairy band.

Jeff DeMarco: I agree - I think she is the best contralto role in the canon. She has a lot of good music to sing, she is in control just about all the way through, she has compassion along with her power. There is very little one can say against her. (I suspect there are SOME out there who feel she is a villain...) When she exacts her "revenge" on the Peers for being mean to Strephon, the punishments certainly fit the crimes. Most of her decrees correct pretty bad conduct on their part. Her biggest gaffe is to allow Strephon to carry every bill, since, like Harriet, he means well but he don't know...

Robert Jones: I agree; she's the butt of humour far less than many of her type. But I think she still fits the stereotyped role that WSG so loved and ASS so hated. I believe "She certainly did surprising things!" is well and truly a reference to her size. She's a strong, sympathetic character, but she's still risible in the same way that, say, Katisha is.

Barclay Gordon: Like so many Savoynetters, I think IOLANTHE is an out-and-out winner. If I listed all my favorite moments in this opera, the list would coincide almost exactly with the favorite songs and scenes already mentioned. But fairydom's inner workings are still a mystery to me. For example, I do not know who bestowed the gift of eternal youth on the fairies or, more important, why this gift was so cruelly withheld from only one fairy: the Queen? Do the fairies really need a sort of Mother Superior figure? I thought so until I saw a twenty-something mezzo take the role in a performance of IOLANTHE given at the Berkshire Choral Festival a few summers ago. Now I'm not so sure. She was a delightful performer and her obvious youth seemed to make her confrontation with the Lord Chancellor even funnier. And her final pairing with Pvt. Willis (also twenty-something) seemed to be appropriate rather than a mismatch.

Louis Wernick: This is a reply to a recent posting that we have more comments from male 'netters about men's roles in IOLANTHE than we have had so far comments from female 'netters about women's roles in IOLANTHE. As a relative newcomer to this group, I wonder if demographics may not be responsible. For example, are there a lot of men in this group who regularly perform leads in the G&S operettas, hence are more than willing to share their perceptions of the LC, or Strephon or Tolloller or Mountararat? Conversely, if we have a lot of men on the 'net who can talk about their experience in doing principal roles, do we have as many ladies on the net who regularly do principal roles and are willing to discuss their perceptions of Iolanthe, or Phyllis or Celia and Fleta or Leila or the Faerie Queen? I know many women on the 'net who read everything but simply choose not to regularly respond.

Is it possible that

  1. There are more men on the 'net than women?
  2. Many of the women on the group are involved in choruses, directing and designing and conducting the operettas without actually regularly doing principal roles in them?
  3. Regularly performing principal roles in G&S but not willing to share perceptions and experiences with the group?
What is the answer?

Harriet Meyer: According to a REVIEW SAVOYNET from about a month ago, identifiably male subscribers outnumbered identifiably female subscribers by 3.5:1 (293:83), a strong working majority. That perhaps explains the relative dearth of female posts.

Henry M. Odum: .5?

Could Strephon be a lurker? Harriet Meyer: (Good one!) Could be : there is a Gcrawle!

Henry M. Odum: Speaking of which, I wonder what % of Savoynetters could be classified as "lurkers"? A subjective term I realize, so it would be hard to count. Then there are those like me who lurk for a few months, resurface for a few months like a bad dream, posting fairly frequently, then disappearing for a few months...Those of that ilk could be hard to classify ...

Harriet Meyer: Couldn't resist checking. I counted 258 who never (not even hardly ever) post, 80 who sometimes post, and 53 who always (well, not always) post. That makes 66% never, 20% sometimes, and 14% always, or

2:1 never/(sometimes + always)

6:1 (never +sometimes)/always

Counts and math hastily done, and, of course, the always & sometimes were very subjective counts, so if you disagree, the task of tallying the list I'd rather leave to you. May this inhibit no one from posting!

Deborah E Sager: Steve Sullivan wrote: "If there are ever some good postings about the women's roles in Iolanthe, they will definitely be added to the discussion."

Alright, women. Hm.

One of my favorite things about Iolanthe is the active role of the chorus, and the balance between men's singing and women's singing, rather than (for example) Pinafore or Patience. The women definitely enjoyed Iol.

Celia, Leila, and Fleta: they *can* be distinguished, you just have to sit down and take the time to do so. We tried to make them flirty, dramatic, and naive respectively, and I think we succeeded to an extent. Leila was the leader of us three, and second in command to the Queen. (We hid behind Leila when approaching Strephon for the first time, Leila anticipated the Queen changing the law when the L.C. said "Allow me, as an old equity draftsman..." and ran to get the constitution and quill pen.) Celia put extra emphasis on her "weakness" lines and clung very hard to Tolloller at the end (actually, I held on to my chorus tenor pretty firmly too. Tenors, you know. We couldn't help ourselves.) I tried to be as scared and as awed by everything as I could be. Rather textbook interpretations I suppose, but we did our best in the time allotted. *We* had fun. We looked rather amusing too; Celia and I are both just under 5', Leila was about 5'7".

The Queen: doesn't have to be stout. Ours was one of the least stout women in the company. True, the jokes don't make much sense, but there aren't enough of them to cause a problem. I like the Queen, I really do. Her solo is beautiful, her 1st act finale singing is exciting, she's powerful and majestic (more than *anyone* else on stage), yet still loving (in her own way) to her fairies (daughters?). She even confesses her greatest weakness (P.W.) to them when they need a pep talk. The best contralto part, I think.

Iolanthe: I think the best thing to do is vary her when you can. She is an extremely devoted mother to Strephon, make her a practical one too. Maybe during the lines just before the Act 1 finale. She has to enjoy being out of that swamp, maybe she decorates herself with non-swamp things?

Phyllis: She and Strephon get such great lines! She reminds me of Yum-Yum, except with a social conscience. Can you imagine Yum-Yum ever turning down a chorus of Peers, to extremely rich earls, and the L.C.? Although I suppose Josephine would, and Mabel would. So would Aline, Patience, Ida, Zara, and Gianetta (maybe). Elsie Maynard, another maybe. But Angelina and Rose Maybud, never.

A basic idea. Anyone else? Better late (like this) than never.

Updated 28 November 1997