|Iolanthe > Reviews > First Night Review
From The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Monday, November 27, 1882; Issue 10776.
On Saturday night Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's new work "Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri," was produced at the Savoy Theatre, London. When (says a Sunday contemporary) it is made known that a Lord Chancellor, a bevy of pretty fairies, an Arcadian shepherd, and a detachment of peers figure in the story of "Iolanthe", it may almost be said that the spirit of the plot is revealed. Who that knows Mr. Gilbert's treatment of his favourite incongruities will not at once divine the attitude of the Lord Chancellor towards the Arcadian shepherdess who is a ward in Chancery? Where is the difficulty in guessing what will happen to fairies and peers when they meet by moonlight under the clock tower in Palace-yard, Westminster?
As in others of Mr, Gilbert's fairy plays, a supposed law of fairyland first sets the plot in motion. It seems, then, that in the Arcady of the stage, a smiling landscape with the pure electric light for its sun, it is decreed that whenever a fairy marries a mortal she dies. Against the working of this harsh law Leila, Celia, and Fleta protest. Twenty five years ago it robbed them of the leader of their fairy ring – Iolanthe – who should be with them now, tripping over the fields to soft music, instead of working out her commuted sentence of banishment "on her head at the bottom of the stream." At their request the Fairy Queen gives Iolanthe back to them, and, in answer to their invocation, she appears introducing Strephon, her son, who, though only a shepherd, has the peculiarity of being immortal as to the upper portion of his frame, but mortal as to his nether limbs. But except for wordy speculations, sometimes ingenious and sometimes rather childish, as to the practical result of this odd conformation, Strephon's semi-immortality is not allowed much significance.
It prevents the Lord Chancellor, however, from giving his consent to the young man's marriage with Phyllis. But this occurs later on, and in the meanwhile Strephon can troll out the joyous ditty with its burthen, "I'm to be married to-day." Then, after a charming duet between the lovers, "None shall part us from each other," the piece — which has opened somewhat slowly — suddenly wakes into life with the approach of a procession of peers, to a ringing, spirited march. They are gorgeously clad in their robes and coronets, as Knights of the Garter, of the Thistle, and of St. Patrick, and K.C.B.'s respectively, and are followed up by the Lord Chancellor, in full wig, and with robe held by his train-bearer. A military band at the back of the stage adds to the burlesque pomp of the chorus —
And every one is put in good humour for the Lord Chancellor's song concerning his troubles:—
This excellent comic ditty, as well as a subsequent one, concerning the good resolves of a young barrister, "Said I to myself, said I," was capitally given by Mr. Grossmith.
Another most amusing song, the parodied sentiment of which is delightfully illustrated by the music, is the ballad allotted to Lord Tolloller, who, with Lord Mountararat, is a candidate for the hand of the Chancellor's rustic ward. Its words are in Mr. Gilbert's favourite vein, and are worth quoting:‑
Phyllis will not listen to the advances of either of her noble suitors, who retire in dudgeon; but on his part the Chancellor will not hear of her marriage to Strephon. The lover urges that his lordship has no jurisdiction over the birds and trees, the winds and thunderclouds, and the Chancellor admits this to be a new point. But when Strephon states that "chorussed Nature" bade him take Phyllis, the Chancellor stops him, after the true manner of the law courts, "Ah! but, my good sir," he exclaims, "you mustn't tell us what she told you — it's not evidence." Strephon, therefore, is dismissed, and whilst seeking consolation from his mother is sadly misunderstood by his mistress, Iolanthe, as a mortal, has not aged in appearance during her twenty-five years of maternity; and Phyllis grows jealous of her. The Arcadian shepherdess, the peers, and the Chancellor one sad all cry out that poor Strephon's explanation is a "Taradiddle, taradiddle tol lol lay," and the ensemble in which they do so is very cleverly worked up.
So, too, is the finale to the first act, when the fairies coming to Strephon's aid are arrayed against the peers, and when the Queen pronounces her sentence of punishment upon their lordships, decreeing that Strephon shall enter their house, and carry all sorts of dreadful reforms for their degradation. This finale obtained an irresistible encore, well deserved by a sparkling vivacity which set many a foot beating time, and left many a tuneful phrase singing in the ears.
In the second act the slightness of the plot, even for comic opera, makes itself felt. Of course it is laughable enough to see the fairies, with miniature electric lamps on their hair, falling in love with the peers, whom it is their duty to aid Strephon in destroying. It is amusing, too, to watch the Lord Chancellor's distress when he falls in love with his own ward, and ought to commit himself for contempt of court. But in order to fill out the act rather too much has to be made out of trifles, such as the sham offers of self sacrifice made by Phyllis's two noble suitors. The music here is very satisfactory, especially in the case of the Fairy Queen's song, "O foolish fay!" with its catching refrain adapted to words of most far fetched humour. It must suffice to note that a trio and dance allotted to the Chancellor and the two wards, together with a most graceful quartette and solo for the Grenadier on sentry duty in Palace-yard, were amongst the most popular features of the later act.
It remains only to add that the reception of "Iolanthe" was throughout extremely favourable, and that at the fall of the curtain composer and author appeared before it in answer to loud calls from the audience.
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