Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



David Craven: The second problem with Iolanthe is that many Boards of Gilbert and Sullivan Performing Societies are under the misperception that Iolanthe will draw quite well. Yet, it is frequently heard.... our Society put on Iolanthe and for some strange reason it did not draw as well as ... fill in blank of obscure show such as Utopia, Ida or Sorcerer. I think that if we all compare experiences, we will see that, in fact, Iolanthe only draws well among the purists. (In fact, even among the purists it may not be as "popular" as we make it out to be... as evidenced by the problem in Philly of getting a full cast for the festival show...)

Thus, one of the problems with Iolanthe is that it can lead a G&S company astray and into financial difficulties...
Bruce I. Miller: A curious post, and craftily worded. Any company can misfire with any of the G & S operas; it depends on many factors, most of them having nothing at all to do with the relative merits of the operas themselves. Usually the quality of direction, as well as the skills of all the participants and the reputation of the company, have as much to do with audience response. David Craven: Ah... I am not referring to artistic success. The problem is that one must be able to get the people into the theater. Unless a company has a well established base, Iolanthe is a problem because it is quite difficult to properly publicize, and to the great unwashed, it is a bit unaccessible.. (It requires, for example, an understanding of the British form of Government...)
Bruce I. Miller: But the suggestion made here, that Iolanthe is more prone to lead a company into financial difficulties, is unsupported by any decent scientific analysis that I know of. David Craven: I am interesting in seeing what others experience has been. The Savoy-aires production of Iolanthe, in spite of significant publicity, drew far fewer than the past several shows. In a similar fashion, other groups that I know of had smaller crowds than many other productions...
Bruce I. Miller: If we were to look at the rental history of the D'Oyly Carte Rental Library I doubt that we would find it less than halfway down; and in England, for a couple of decades, it was the top rental favorite. In the USA, again, it may not be the top ranking favorite, but it certainly does better than some of the operas. David Craven: Yes. I agree that it is presented a great deal. G&S aficionados (with rare exceptions) really like the show.... but that does not necessarily translate to audience size. La Boheme is a prime example of an Opera popular with the masses, but not really as much with performers.. in contrast, some great operas are just not all that popular with the audience....
Bruce I. Miller: And let's not throw in that canard about Utopia's supposed 'popularity." Because it is performed so infrequently, any time it *is* produced it will have a certain substantial curiosity draw. David Craven: Okay.. what about Ida, which many companies also find that it sells much better than expected...
Bruce I. Miller: For whatever worth anecdotal information may provide, we sold out all of our performances of Iolanthe a few years ago and made a substantial profit - the largest profit, in fact, over a ten year period the company has enjoyed. David Craven: Interesting. I am pleased that it happened for you, but I would be very surprised if this were the norm....

Chris Webster: For what it's worth. In my experience of G & S AOSs, Iolanthe is performed in (not entirely strict) rotation as much as the others with the exception of UL and GD. I think looking at the past performances section of the two societies I was involved in would show that each work has been performed a reasonably equal number of times although Mikado does tend to work its way forward a little. Meaning that where most shows might be performed every nine or ten years, Mikado tends to creep in at every seven or eight years.

Marc Shepherd: I know of no "established wisdom" that Boards of Directors overestimate IOLANTHE's drawing power. The fact that a few Boards made such an error (assuming, for the sake of argument, that this happened) does not make it a universal truth.

I do agree that, in the states, IOLANTHE probably has no more drawing power than PRINCESS IDA. (I cannot conceive of a reason for it having LESS.) The situation in the U.K. is considerably different; there, the opera is extremely well known and popular.

I also agree that the choice of opera had a lot to do with the troubles casting last year's Festival Production in Philly, but I think they would have had this problem with ANY opera other than Mikapirafore.

I fail to see how any of this--assuming it all to be true--can be counted a defect of IOLANTHE. What does its standing in the amateur repertories of ONE country (the USA) have anything to do with the objective merits of the piece? How is this a DEFECT of the opera itself?

David Craven wrote: "Thus, one of the problems with Iolanthe is that it can lead a G&S company astray and into financial difficulties..."

IOLANTHE, all by itself, and distinct from any of the other operas in the canon, can do this? Get real.

Mike Storie: I think every company and locale may be an exception. Here are some attendance figures for our recent productions in Seattle:
YearShowPct of run sold
1982Grand Duke79%
The above percentages are for a 11-performance run in a theater seating about 800. Our total audiences vary between about 6,000 and 8,800

Tickets for our July production of Iolanthe are moving very briskly by word of mouth among our members. We don't start publicity or sales to the general public until June 1.

David Craven: What I did say is that Iolanthe invariable does not do as well at the box office as a company's board believes. The two are vastly different. A board might project Iolanthe to draw 90% capacity and Sorcerer to draw only 50%. Budgets and fundraising will happen based on those projections. Yet if Sorcerer draws 55% capacity and Iolanthe only 85% capacity the company might find itself in some trouble.

It is my belief that because sophisticated G&S fans like Iolanthe they overestimate its overall appeal. Scoff at my position if you like, but don't misstate it in order to try to attack my credibility.

It is apparent that a number of you are offended that I am breaking up your Iolanthe love-fest by suggesting that... shock and horror... it might have a flaw. I am not saying that it is a bad show, for it clearly is not, and it clearly is well crafted, what I am saying is that, at least in my view it is badly overrated.


H. M. Odum: David Craven wrote: "I am interesting in seeing what others experience has been. The Savoy-aires production of Iolanthe, in spite of significant publicity, drew far fewer than the past several shows. "

Publicity was a SERIOUS problem in that production - as you cited in a post recently where you bemoaned the hazards of relying on the Chicago Postal System - you complained that a very significant number of the fliers to subscribers & others arrived days, even weeks too late, courtesy of said postal system.

Plus the posters for the show, gave an incorrect phone number to call for tickets.

I have no doubt that you're right to a certain extant that IOLANTHE is indeed not the draw that. say, the big three are, but without all the problems that production had with the mail service, who knows how it would've drawn?

Updated 28 November 1997