|Iolanthe > Reviews > First Night Review
From Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, December 3, 1882; Issue 2089.
Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri, the new fairy opera of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, produced on Saturday*, is both in its dramatic and musical elements very similar in style to the other operas from the same pens which the public have accepted with so much approval, The story is certainly not quite so ingenious, nor has it so many quaint and unexpected turns as were noticeable in some of its predecessors, but the audience on such occasions as last night go prepared to find an extraordinary amount of fun in Mr. Gilbert's dialogue, and the author has at times perhaps been himself surprised at the laughter following a few of his lines.
The music as a whole is bright and tripping, but at a first hearing does not catch the attention so completely as did that of the Pinafore. Perhaps it is the better, perhaps the worse, for thus not immediately seizing the ear.
Mr. Gilbert, in this instance, produces his chief comic effects by an odd mixture of the ideal with the material. Iolanthe, some 20 years before the opera opens, had been a fairy, but was banished from Elfinland because she married a mortal. Her former companions regret her loss, and by their desire the Queen — a very commanding personage, in the form of Miss Alice Barnett — summons Iolanthe from the bottom of the stream in which she has taken up her abode. The banished fairy during the ensuing conversation acquaints her friends that, though she looks as young as ever, she has a son aged 24, named Strephon, whom she states is a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal. Strephon, it appears, has fallen in love with a ward in Chancery, but the Lord Chancellor (who is himself enamoured of Phyllis, the damsel in question) will not give his consent. Unfortunately, Strephon has not told Phyllis that he is partly a fairy. According to his own statement, "She thinks him mortal, and prefers him so." To Phyllis's arcadian residence comes a numerous contingent from the House of Lords, in their robes, headed by one of the Guards' bands, and asking the Lord Chancellor to give her to whomever she may select from among them. Phyllis becomes jealous of Iolanthe, not crediting that she is Strephon's mother, and declares herself ready to marry one of the Lords, she is not particular which. Strephon summons the fairies to his aid, and they declare he shall go into Parliament, and, backed by elfin influence, shall compel the Lords to accept measures to which they have always objected. With this the first act ends.
The scene of the second division of the opera is Palace-yard, Westminster. Strephon's Parliamentary career fulfils all that is expected of him by the fairies. Two of the Lords and Strephon are still rivals for Phyllis, and the story is carried on without any important fresh action until a fresh start is given to the plot by Iolanthe's announcement that the Lord Chancellor is her husband. It having been decided to throw the peerage open to competitive examination, the Lords do not quite see what further use they are on earth, and, at the suggestion of the Fairy Queen, agree to exchange the House of Peers for the House of Peris.
Mr. Gilbert's share of the opera receives better interpretation than that of Mr. Sullivan, Nearly all the performers speak their lines well, especially Miss Barnett, the stalwart Fairy Queen, and Mr. G. Grossmith, who is really amusing as the Lord Chancellor. Miss Leonora Braham sings the music of Phyllis with good effect. Mr. R. Temple is Strephon, and Messrs. Barrington and Lely the two most prominent Peers.
One of the best things in the opera opens the second act. It is a bass song for the sentry (played by Mr. Manners) on duty in Palace-yard. Next to this, from this popular point of view, is a trio with dance for the two Lords and the Lord Chancellor.
In this act the Fairy Queen and her three chief attendants have electric lamps in their hair. The effect, however, is too dazzling to be pleasant, and in a dark scene obscures the face.
Mr. Sullivan (who conducted), with Mr. Gilbert, were enthusiastically summoned before the curtain at the close, and then Mr. Carte was called for. The opera was well received throughout, though we cannot anticipate for it the run of Patience.
* Evidently this review was held over from the previous week.
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