|Iolanthe > Reviews > No. 2 "Iolanthe" Company in Bath
From The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Thursday, January 4, 1883; Issue 10808.
Our readers have already been made aware of the fact that Mr. Neebe, the spirited lessee of this theatre, has made a departure from the beaten track of pantomime, and has produced for the delectation of his holiday patrons Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's latest production, "Iolanthe." Those who have witnessed "The Sorcerer,'' "Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance," or " Patience" — and who has not? — will yield, we expect, a ready assent to us when we say that if the old lines of holiday burlesque are to be abandoned, there is no source from which a manager may so surely rely upon drawing a winning card as the repertoire of those amusing writers. The stories — if stories they may be called — of their pieces are so whimsical, the characters and situations so provocative of fun, the dialogue so smart and pungent, and the music so tuneful and bright, that anyone who cannot spend an enjoyable hour or two in witnessing one of their comic operas must be well-nigh in the morose state which is said to be incapable of being amused at all. Mr. Neebe has shown, we think, commendable enterprise in so promptly securing permission to perform this work upon his stage. It was only presented to the public at the Savoy Theatre towards the end of November, and within "a month, a little month," the play-goers of Bath have opportunities of witnessing it and enjoying the "mirth and music" which are so happily blended in it.
It must not, however, be inferred from the rapidity with which the opera has made its way from the Savoy to the "Queen city of the West" that it has been produced by Mr. Neebe in an incomplete form. The Bath manager is too experienced a caterer, and Bath audiences are professedly too fastidious, for anything of that kind to be the case, On the contrary, it has been brought out in a very complete manner. The scenery upon which our talented fellow citizen, Mr. M. H. Barraud, has been for some time engaged, leaves nothing to be desired, and the costumes and appointments throughout have been prepared upon the metropolitan lines.
When the opera was first produced we gave an account of the plot, so that we are to an extent relieved from any present detail. Twenty five years before the action commences, Iolanthe, the fairy from whom the opera derives its title, has sinned against the laws of Fairyland by marrying a mortal. The punishment for this is death, but the Queen has commuted her sentence to one which condemns her to stand on her head at the bottom of a stream, and when the curtain rises it discloses a scene replete with fairylike beauties, in which the fairies are found bewailing Iolanthe's doom — a doom, however, from which she is spared, as the Fairy Queen recalls and pardons her upon condition that she will never see her husband again. Upon her recall she introduces to the fairy sisterhood her son Strephon, who is in the very prime of early manhood. Strephon has been smitten by the charms of Phyllis, a shepherdess, who happens also to be a ward in Chancery, and whose powers of fascination may be judged of by the fact that she ranks amongst her admirers not only a brace of peers, Lord Mountararat and Lord Tolloller, but in fact the entire House of Lords. Iolanthe, being of fairy mould, is impervious to the effects of time, and ever retaining her youthful beauties. Strephon's conduct in bolding affectionate converse with her is misinterpreted by Phyllis, who casts him off. The youth, in despair, summonses to his aid the fairy band, and they resolve that he shall go to Parliament, eclipse the labours of the House of Peers, carry by fairy aid all which he proposes, and throw the peerage open to competitive examination. The first act, which is brought to a termination at this point of the story, closes with a really spirited and tuneful finale.
The second act, in which the scene of action is transferred to Palace-yard, Westminster, discloses another effective work from Mr. Barraud's brush. The two lords, finding that they cannot adjust their rival claims to Phyllis's hand, urge the Lord Chancellor to overcome his scruples in the matter and marry the girl himself, and this he is about to do when Iolanthe, who has vainly endeavoured to win his consent for Strephon, breaks her fairy vow and declares herself to be his long-lost wife. The Fairies are at once summoned, and the Queen is about to doom the offending Iolanthe to death, when they all declare that they must suffer too, as they are duchesses, marchionesses, viscountesses, and baronesses.
It should be stated, in further illustration of the whimsical nature of the story, that Strephon is half fairy and half mortal, being immortal in the upper half of his body and mortal in his legs. This state he much complains of, remarking that although the fairy part of his person can get through a key-hole, the mortality of his nether limbs bars his progress. There is also introduced the obvious absurdity of the Queen of the Fairies falling in love with one of the sentries in Palace-yard.
Such, very briefly told, is the plot — if plot it may be called — of the comic opera now performing at Bath, and which Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's reputations have invested with such a glamour of popularity that it is even by anticipation stirring musical society to its depths in both hemispheres. We ourselves do not consider "Iolanthe" fully up to the mark of either "Patience" or "The Pirates," but it is nevertheless intensely humorous, and there are good natured satires in it upon the Houses of Parliament and the shortcomings of the law courts which will ensure for it popularity.
Mr. Gilbert has also so shaped his story as to admit of a good deal of display. The dresses of the fairies are exceedingly picturesque and pretty, whilst those of the peers, who appear in their Court robes, wearing all their collars, orders, and badges, and with their golden and jewelled coronets on their heads, make a really brilliant display.
The music, as we have already said, is bright and tuneful. Some of the airs are, if possible, too sweet and melodious, transcending the trifling nature of the libretto; and here and there we recognise passages of which we have heard exceedingly close resemblances in some of Mr. Sullivan's other operas. We do not know, however, that a man is to be deemed unlawful for stealing his own, whilst a great deal more than this would be redeemed by the great beauty and richness of the instrumentation.
In the character of the Fairy Queen a very important one, we recognise Miss Fanny Harrison, who was heard to such advantage in Bristol as Ruth in "The Pirates of Penzance," and Lady Jane in "Patience." We are sure that we need hardly say that she acts the part admirably, and does all justice to the music, and those who remember her commanding presence will feel no surprise to learn that her promise to curl herself up in a buttercup evokes much laughter. Miss Jessie Louise is a charming Iolanthe. Her rendering of a very sweet ballad, "He loves," is amongst the musical successes of the opera. Miss Josephine Findlay presents a befittingly arch and vivacious portrait of the coquettish shepherdess, Phyllis, and her vocalisation is bright and effective. There are three fairy characters which are less strikingly drawn, which are all agreeably personated by Miss Deveine, Miss Kavannah, and Miss Webb.
The part of the Lord Chancellor of course forms a central figure of the opera. It is shaped very much upon the lines of Sir Joseph Porter, K.C. B., in "Pinafore." In Mr. John Wilkinson's hands it is a cleverly conceived and well executed caricature of the starchy dignity of a pedantic judge. It has its patter songs, as have all Mr. Gilbert's characters of the class, and they are amusingly sung, and win encores, as also a grotesque dance which he introduces. Mr. Walter Greyling, who has a nice light baritone voice, which he manages with skill, was the Strephon, and acts. the part admirably. Mr. C. Pounds, the principal tenor, fills the rôle of Earl Tolloller, and won last night a warm encore for his principal song. Mr. C. J. Stanley did justice to the part of Lord Mountararat, and there is a character which seems almost to have been pitched in, but which, nevertheless, adds to the absurdity of the opera, and gives scope for some very good acting by Mr. G. W. Marler, so favourably remembered as the Sergeant of Police in the "Pirates of Penzance." It is a private of the Grenadier Guards who is a sentry in Palace-yard, and with whom the Fairy Queen falls in love.
At the close of the action the Lord Chancellor and all the peers resolve to become fairies. His lordship's wings actually grow out, and as the curtain descends all the dramatis personae are supposed to be flying off to Fairyland.
From The Era (London, England), Saturday, January 6, 1883; Issue 2311.
Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera Iolanthe, as presented by Mr. D'Oyly Carte's company, is now in capital working order, and providing a great attraction. Much care has been taken in the selection of artistes to fill the various characters, and the result is a complete success. Mr. John Wilkinson as the Lord Chancellor is inimitable. The part of Strephon by Mr. Walter Greyling is excellent. Mr. C. C. Pounds takes the character of Lord Tolloller in a most pleasing manner, his voice being rich and acting full of promise, this being his first appearance upon the stage. Mr. C. J. Stanley is good as Lord Mountararat, and Mr. G. W. Marler is most satisfactory in the small part of Private Willis. Miss Fanny Harrison is eminently successful as the Queen of the Fairies, her figure being most imposing. Miss Jessie Louise as the pathetic Iolanthe is charming, and renders her music most intelligently; while Miss Josephine Findlay is a lively and sparkling Phyllis. The choruses are good, and the dresses superb but appropriate.
On Wednesday last Mr. Frank Thornton, from the Savoy was presented by Mr. Herbert Brook, on behalf of the company, with a handsome gold ring as a mark of esteem for his general affability and kindliness to the members during his management of the production of the opera in Bath.
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