|Iolanthe > Reviews > No.1 "Iolanthe" Company in Dublin
From Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland), Tuesday, March 27, 1883; Issue N/A.
Last evening "Iolanthe," the latest comic opera by Sullivan and Gilbert was produced at the Gaiety Theatre before a densely crowded audience. It need hardly be added that the occasion was regarded with very considerable interest. There is no place where the merits of musicians and authors have found more ready recognition than in Dublin, and the observation has a peculiar bearing upon the composers of the work under notice, for their productions have here found an intelligent and encouraging appreciation that did much to establish their world wide fame. Since the days of Auber and Scribe there has been no such wonderful combination as that of Sullivan and Gilbert, and the secret of their success is to be found mainly in the extraordinary sympathy that appears to have existed between the two.
The author of the "Bab Ballads," "Pygmalion," and "The Palace of Truth" struck a vein of humour that had hitherto been underdeveloped, if not altogether untouched, and when such a man as Sullivan lent his powers to form the materials that have since been worked up with such extraordinary success, the result seemed almost a foregone conclusion. They both possessed in their respective spheres gifts that lay in precisely the same direction. Few writers of our day have so effectively and so humorously caricatured personages and institutions as Mr. Gilbert, and no modern composer possesses in the same degree the versatility and the power of musical expression of Mr. Sullivan. The strange whimsical imagination of the literary partner has found a musical counterpart — one who reproduces the same ideas through a different medium, and hence the wonderful and fascinating effect of everything they have jointly composed.
It is doubtful if they are ever likely to produce anything that will quite equal the popularity of "Pinafore," though at the same time, the "Pirates of Penzance," the "Sorcerer," and "Patience" contain much that has won universal acceptance and admiration. That there is a certain family likeness in all their works is an undoubted fact. The "patter song" of one is to be found slightly disguised, but still recognisable in the other, and frequent parallels, musical and verbal, are to be discovered in each succeeding effort. Although this applies undoubtedly to "Iolanthe" — although the airs and words now and then suggest old familiar friends, there is sufficient novelty in the work to give it an interest peculiarly its own. It would be a misnomer to describe the incidents that make up the story of "Iolanthe" as a plot. As in the case of "Patience" and "The Sorcerer," the humour of the thing turns to a very large extent upon the absolute absurdity of the situations, and the keynote struck in "Trial by Jury" has been followed up with striking effect in this most amusing production.
It is not easy to give intelligibly and satisfactorily and within reasonable limits a notion of the "argument." In the first scene we are presented with an Arcadian landscape, through which a river flows; fairies are found bewailing the absence of Iolanthe, who arises from the water, clad in leaves, and who, being pardoned, resumes the appearance and status of a fairy. When asked why she had withdrawn to the river, she explains that it was to be near her son Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, who is described as a fairy down to the waist, but whose legs are mortal. He enters playing a clarionet [sic], and states that he is to be married to Phyllis, who combines the double attractions of an Arcadian and a Ward in Chancery. The entry of Phyllis leads to a love duet, in which the pair vow eternal constancy.
A military march here introduces a procession of Peers, in their robes of state, followed by the Lord Chancellor and train bearers. This is one of the most amusing scenes, and gave rise to unbounded merriment. The Lord Chancellor is followed by coroneted Peers, whose pompous gestures, attitudes, and exaggerated looks and stilted language offer a successful satire upon the pretentious demeanour of so many of the aristocracy. The Lord Chancellor seizes the first opportunity of singing a characteristic song in praise of law, and alluding to the difficulties of his office as the guardian of pretty young Wards in Chancery, as none are under [sic] the age of 21 — a pleasant position for a "highly susceptible Chancellor." In this scene his lordship sings a most amusing song with the refrain, "Said I to myself, said I."
Strephon seeks counsel with Iolanthe, and is suddenly confronted by Phyllis, who, not knowing their relationship, grows desperately jealous, rejects her lover, and signifies her determination to marry one of the Peers. The Queen of the Fairies makes herself known to the Lord Chancellor, and directs Strephon to enter Parliament. He explains that he is a Tory of the most determined description, but his legs are a "couple of confounded Radicals, and on a division they would be sure to take him into the wrong lobby." The Lord Chancellor points out that the feelings of one in his position, who is in love with a ward of court, are not to be envied, and he adds — "Can he marry his own ward without his own consent? And if he marries his own ward without his own consent, can he commit himself for contempt of his own court? And if he commit himself for contempt of his own court, can he appear by counsel before himself, to move for arrest of his own judgement? — Ah, my lords, it is indeed painful to have to sit upon a woolsack which is stuffed with such thorns as those!"
The act winds up with consternation among the Peers and exultation among the fairies.
Act 2 introduces us to Palace Yard, Westminster, with Private Willis as sentry, who sings a song touching Members of Parliament. A chorus of fairies and Peers announces that Strephon is now an M.P. and carries every bill he chooses, and one noble lord complains that the gentle shepherd is playing the very deuce with everything — that tonight he is to move the second reading of a bill to throw the peerage open to competitive examination. There is then a pretty air sung by the Queen with a choral refrain, and a quartet for the Earls, Phyllis and the sentry. Then comes the "patter song" — a trio in the buffo style for the Chancellor and the two Earls. It now appears that the reason Strephon's marriage with Phyllis is prohibited is that death is the penalty for any fairy who marries a mortal; but the Lord Chancellor, good easy man, makes this all right. He is an "old equity draughtsman," and suggests the emendation of the legal document, by which it is made to read that "every fairy shall die who shall not marry a mortal." A general and harmonious union follows between fairies and mortals, the Queen marries Private Willis, the Lord Chancellor it seems is married to Iolanthe, and expresses his pleasure at the happy exchange — "a house of peers for a house of peris," and all ends merrily.
It is impossible to exaggerate the comical effect produced by the ludicrous mixing up of the fairy element with the Lord Chancellor and the Peers, and the words are full of the oddest combinations of droll absurdities. A good deal of the text taken by itself may seem ridiculous, and perhaps unmeaning enough, but when the object of the work, the keen satire that pervades it and the indescribably comical character of the situations are taken into consideration, no one with the slightest sense of the ludicrous can fail to enjoy it and to recognise its merits.
The music is all good. Some of it quaintly suggests the "music of the masters" in some of the burlesque sentimental situations, and a few of the numbers are delightfully descriptive, and have a charm of melody all their own. Many of the concerted passages have a tender grace worthy of more serious associations. The opening chorus for the fairies, "Tripping hither," is very clever, and the choruses for the Peers have a pompous, inflated character, admirably appropriate to the persons who sing them and the words to which they are wedded. The duet for Strephon and Phyllis, "None shall part us," is one of the best pieces in the first act, and the Lord Chancellor's song, "The law is the true embodiment," is irresistibly amusing. The airs for Lord Tolloller and the Earl of Mountararat, with choral refrain, in the same scene, are capitally written, and Lord Tolloller's ballad, "Spurn not the nobly born," is marked by much originality. There is some delightfully fresh and skilful music in the close of the first act, the choral effects being managed with remarkable power.
In the second act the Queen of the Fairies sings "Oh, foolish Fay," a very beautiful number, and the chorus, "On fire that glows," is strikingly effective. The quartet for the two lords and Phyllis and Willis, "Though perhaps I may incur your blame," was encored, as was also the trio by the Lord Chancellor and Lords Mountararat and Tolloller. The dance of their lordships in this scene is one of the most amusing incidents of the act. Amongst the most attractive airs in the second act is the duet for Strephon and Phyllis, "If we're weak enough to tarry."
The performance throughout was uncommonly good. The company is an excellent one. To Mr. Frank Thornton is due the credit of presenting the most perfect and at the same time the most amusing portrait of the Lord Chancellor — as Gilbert has drawn that eminent personage. His face is a study — a model of judicial earnestness and pompous propriety, and his gestures are singularly in keeping with what we would expect from such a distinguished legal luminary. He gave his songs capitally, and won the chief laurels of the evening. Miss Fanny Harrison was a suitably substantial Phyllis [sic], and Miss Duggan deserves a special word of praise for her singing and acting as Celia, and as Iolanthe Miss Young acted gracefully and sang very well.
The Earl of Tolloller found in Mr. Cadwalladr a most excellent representative. He is well known to Dublin audiences. His fine tenor voice has much improved in power and sweetness and he was frequently deservedly applauded. Mr. Greyling and Mr. Marler, the former as the Earl and the latter as Private Willis, filled their respective parts most capably.
The orchestral department was satisfactory, and the opera was put upon the stage, as far as scenery and dresses are concerned, with great elaboration. In conclusion, the production of "Iolanthe" may be described as having been a decided success.
The theatre, during the short recess, has been very tastefully re-decorated.
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