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From The Times Saturday, Monday, December 9, 1901.
The Savoy management has returned to the plan of reviving the Gilbert-Sullivan series in order, and on Saturday night Iolanthe saw the light again after an interval of nearly 18 years. It was produced in November, 1882, and ran for a little more than a year – quite a short time as Savoy runs go, or used to go in the palmy days of the enterprise. In listening to it now in its revived form one can only wonder why it was generally considered as one of the least successful of the series. It began, indeed, with rather evil auspices, as far as the composer was concerned, for on the day of its production he received news of the total loss of all his savings in a financial crash, and, in spite of the shock it must have been to him, he bravely conducted the first performance in person.
Perhaps the fact that it was not one of the great successes of the theatre may account in some measure for the brilliant effect it made on Saturday. In truth, the Gilbertian form of quip has never been better illustrated, for the genial poet is at home in fairyland, and the shafts of his irony never fly so surely as when they are directed at the dignitaries of the law. Strephon, half a fairy, half mortal, whose body can slip through a keyhole, but whose legs are left dangling outside, could have been created by no one but Gilbert; the political and philosophical sentry is another masterpiece of invention; and, of course, the Lord Chancellor and the peers have become classical.
With great wisdom the authorities have decided not to modernize the topical allusions, trusting to the memories of the audience to recognize what is meant. One of these had a special fitness on Saturday night, for the invocation to “Oh, Captain Shaw!” was so obviously addressed to one seat in the theatre that the audience soon recognized the former chief of the fire brigade. The only change of topical allusion is that Strephon, when complaining of the existence of political party spirit between one of his legs and the other, remarks of his left limb, “This leg’s a pro-Boer.” But it would take up far too much space to attempt to enumerate the excellent jests in which this libretto is unusually rich.
The music has plenty of side hits at the conventions of opera, such as the recitative before the Chancellors “nightmare” song, the accompaniments to the Fairy Queen’s declaimed sentence on the peers, and many other passages. But it is also full of songs and melodies that must rank high in any estimate of the composer’s work. The entry of the peers, Strephon’s ballad, “In babyhood,” the ensemble “Go away, madam,” the Queen’s song, “Oh, foolish fay,” and the famous cachuca danced by the Chancellor and the two peers are all admirable, to say nothing of the delightful song about “the susceptible Chancellor,” or the immortal song of the sentry.
In a good many respects the revival compares favourably even with the original production; and it was a wise plan, for one thing, not to repeat the electric lighting of the fairies’ hair, an effect which has become common in every pantomime since 1882, the year in which it was first seen in Iolanthe. The Fairy Queen now appears in a delightful parody of the Brünnhilde costume, and as the representative of the part is Miss Rosina Brandram it will readily be believed that nothing is wanting to the musical or dramatic excellence of the performance. Miss Isabel Jay, in a charming Watteau costume, is the most engaging Phyllis it is possible to imagine, and Mr. H. A. Lytton makes a very picturesque counterpart to her. Miss Louie Pounds succeeds Miss Jessie Bond as Iolanthe, a part which never gave the latter excellent comedienne a very good chance.
Mr. Walter Passmore has never so perfectly accommodated himself to the old Savoy traditions as in the part of the Lord Chancellor, from which he extracts every atom of amusement. Mr. Robert Evett sings the part of Lord Tolloller very well, and if Mr. Powis Pinder is but a faint reflection of Mr. Rutland Barrington in that of Lord Mountararat, it is possible that he may get more out of it as time goes on. Of Mr. R. Crompton’s stolid sentry it is impossible to speak too highly; of course the song, like the majority of the other pieces, was encored, and was given with the perfection of solemnity and conviction. It no doubt will be sung more perfectly in tune as the singer gets more accustomed to singing at a distance from the orchestra. Mr. François Cellier conducts with his usual skill, and at the close of the work Mr. Gilbert was called, and of course warmly applauded; Mrs. D’Oyly Carte was also required to appear before the curtain.
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