You are here: Archive Home > Iolanthe

Original costume design for the Fairy Queen by Wilhelm
Click on picture to enlarge

"Iolanthe", or "The Peer and the Peri", opened at the Savoy Theatre on November 25, 1882, three nights after the final performance of Patience at the same theatre, and ran for 398 performances.

Gilbert had taken pot shots at the aristocracy before, but in this "fairy opera," the House of Lords is lampooned as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted. The political party system and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire. Yet, both author and composer managed to couch the criticism among such bouncy, amiable absurdities that it is all received as good fun.

Both Gilbert and Sullivan were at the height of their creative powers in 1882, and many people feel that Iolanthe, their seventh work together, is the most perfect of their collaborations.

Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. Phyllis does not know that Strephon is half fairy (his upper half — his legs are mortal!) and when she sees Strephon kissing a seemingly young woman, she assumes the worst. But her "rival" turns out to be none other than Strephon's own mother, Iolanthe, a fairy — fairies never grow old.

But Phyllis' guardian, the Lord Chancellor, and half the peers in the House of Lords are sighing after her. Soon the peers and the fairies are virtually at war, and long friendships are nearly torn asunder. But all is happily sorted out, thanks to the "subtleties of the legal mind".

  • Original costume design for Iolanthe by Wilhelm
    Click on picture to enlarge
    Introduction adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley (Privately Printed, Undated ).
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's New Comic Opera from The Era, 11 February 1882. A description of the plot of Iolanthe in an early form. A further intimation of the plot of the new piece from The Morning Post  19 June, 1882

Iolanthe Web Opera

All the Music
All the Lyrics
from this Opera

Illustrated with Historical Photographs of D'Oyly Carte Opera Company Productions

The Music:

Note: This vocal score is based on the vocal score published during Sullivan's lifetime and which remained current into the early twentieth century. However, the published score was modified at some point during the twentieth century to produce the version generally on sale today. Companies familiar with recently purchased vocal scores will find several passages unfamiliar.

George Sherringham's costume design for Strephon, 1929

Fold Your Flapping Wings: This was a song for Strephon that was cut by Gilbert and Sullivan during the original production of Iolanthe. Some reviewers found the piece too dark for a lighthearted, good-humored comedy like Iolanthe. Some modern productions have experimented with including the song. The song appeared immediately after the Trio "If You Go In" in Act II. It is rather an interesting and dramatic piece: Judge for yourself by listening to the Midi file and reading the lyrics or following along with the vocal score.

Early Reviews. From a variety of nineteenth century and later newspapers.

D'Oyly Carte programmes from early performances.

D'Oyly Carte productions, 1882-1980, illustrations.

Transcript of a discussion of Iolanthe by members of the SavoyNet distribution list. This extensive discussion provides substantial background information on this opera, and is a must for anyone wanting to understand it better, produce it, or perform in it. Compiled by Stephen B. Sullivan.

A chapter on Iolanthe from the book Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, A History and a Comment, by H. M. Walbrook, published in London in 1922.

Article on Fairy Law, by Arthur Robinson and Sarah A. Cole.

Introduction by Samuel Silvers.

Page updated 13 July 2015. Copyright © 2007-15 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved