|Iolanthe > Reviews > First Night Review
From Reynolds's Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, November 26, 1882; Issue 1685.
Ninon de l'Enclos, the celebrated French beauty, is said to have retained her youthful appearance until such an advanced period of her life that her own grandson, unaware of their relationship, felt in love with her. This, perchance, may have suggested to Mr. W. S. Gilbert the motif of his new comic opera "Iolanthe," the heroine of which, being a fairy, never grows old, and causes Phyllis, who is betrothed to her son, and does not know Iolanthe to be his mother, an amount of jealousy a woman does not often feel towards her prospective mother-in-law.
The story is, as usual, one of those amusing satirical skits of the clever author's which, whilst taking us into the realms of "Topsy Turveydom," manages to endow at least a portion of its dramatis personæ with human characteristics, and to surround them with familiar objects. As we have said, the principal personage in the new comic opera is a fairy (Iolanthe), and that Phyllis, betrothed to her son Strephon, becomes jealous of what she considers the undue attention he pays to another woman. Phyllis renounces Strephon, but on due explanation as to the relationship, becomes reconciled to her lover. Iolanthe promises to plead Phyllis's cause with the Lord Chancellor — for the rash girl, in her jealous anger, has promised to marry in some other quarter, and the Lord Chancellor has decided that he himself will be the happy man.
Matters become complicated by the fact that the Lord Chancellor is already married, his wife being no other than Iolanthe, who, under fairy law, having incurred the penalty of death, has had her sentence commuted into one of perpetual banishment, on condition of leaving her husband, and never revealing to him her identity. This order she now feels bound to break, in order to save Phyllis from making her husband a bigamist, and to restore his sweetheart and happiness to her son. Iolanthe is, however, saved from so dire a fate as death by the intercession of her sister fays, who candidly avow that if this law is to be carried out there will be an end of fairyland, since they are all in love with peers of the realm. The comic absurdity of the whole business is not, however, reached until the Chancellor so alters the law that those must die who are not married.
Happily there is but one amongst them, who is a maiden, their queen, and she is saved through the instrumentality of Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards, who is mounted as sentry in Palace-yard, agreeing to take her to wife. Wings sprout from the shoulders of the peers who are amorous of the fairies, and as competition examination now alone is supposed to entitle them to a seat in the Upper House, they feel that it is no place for them, and prepare to start for Fairyland.
The opera may be chronicled as a success from beginning to end. Mr. Arthur Sullivan has composed some most masterly and delightful music; the stage mounting was admirable, the idyllic scene of the first act charming, and the realistic one of the Houses of Parliament, outside which the second act passes, most effective. The dresses, especially those of the peers, were simply superb, and the acting and singing of all concerned most praiseworthy. A curious item in the adornments of the Fairy Queen (Miss Alice Barnett) deserves mention. It is a star of real flame fastened in her hair, and is formed by the electric light.
Mr. Gilbert's dialogue was as amusing and quaint as any he has ever given us, and applause, loud, long, and well deserved, marked the fall of the curtain. The cast included the names of Messrs. George Grossmith, Rutland Barrington, Durward Lely, Manners, R. Temple, Alice Barnett, Jessie Bond, Julia Gwynne, and Leonora Braham.
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