|Iolanthe > Reviews > No.1 "Iolanthe" Company in Liverpool
From the Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, March 13, 1883; Issue 10972.
With the exception, perhaps, of MM. Erckman and Chatrian, whose stories of France are models of construction and incident, there is no modern instance of success in collaboration equal to that from which has sprung the admirable series of works which began with "Trial by Jury," and of which the latest is "Iolanthe." Between these in order of date occurred "The Sorcerer," "H.M.S. Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance," and "Patience," each full of satirical purpose strengthened by music charged with a keen comic spirit. Of the group just enumerated, "The Sorcerer" is the best in literary and musical design, and there need be little hesitation in conceding the next position to "Iolanthe," which, thanks to the watchful enterprise of Mr. Frank Emery, was introduced to a Liverpool audience at the Prince of Wales Theatre last night.
It is impossible to class these works of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan with any particular school, for they possess few or none of the characteristics which separate Auber from Lecocq, and Lecocq from Offenbach. Strikingly original in conception, and similarly remarkable for the individuality which distinguishes their execution, they cannot be imitated with any degree of fidelity. When Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan cease to write for the stage, the series of pieces which have delighted and continue to delight the people of England and America will come to an end; but, happily, their agreeable literary flavour, bright music, and general purity of tone will sustain them for many a day.
"Iolanthe" exhibits Mr. Gilbert in his most whimsical vein, and the commingling of mortals and immortals would create confusion were the movements of the peers, the peris, the Lord Chancellor, the guardsman, and the shepherd and the shepherdess who unfold the fairy-legal story, not directed by a hand which is nothing if not orderly.
It is evident that Mr. Gilbert has a very low opinion of the legislative capacity of the gentlemen who constitute the Second Estate of the Realm, for in "Iolanthe" he assails them with many a sharply-pointed sarcasm.
"Iolanthe" is less significant than the alternative title of the piece, which is the "Peer and the Peri," but the name, resembling one of those which, based on Greek originals, were common in France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is very pretty and attractive; hence, probably, Mr. Gilbert's choice.
The most clearly defined character in "Iolanthe" is the Lord Chancellor, whose judicial gravity is admirably sustained by Mr. Frank Thornton; in fact, this and the Earl of Mountararat (Mr. Walter Greyling) are played with greater distinction than any of the other parts in the piece. Miss Ethel M'Alpine, who has had considerable experience in the portrayal of Gilbertian heroines, is excellent, both vocally and histrionically, as Phyllis; Miss Fanny Harrison forcibly asserts the dignity of the Fairy Queen in speech and song; and Mr. G. Marler illustrates the British soldier on sentry duty with becoming stolidity, and sings his solitary song with appreciation of its quaint humour.
As Iolanthe, Miss Beatrix Young is over weighted, and the song in which the Peri plaintively appeals to the susceptibilities of her mortal husband, the Lord Chancellor, is deprived of much of its beauty. Mr. L. Cadwaladr, who has a tenor voice powerful within a limited range and fairly under control, offers an acceptable impersonation of Mountararat's friend Tolloller. With singular lack of judgment, Mr. F. Federici shows that he is too conscious of the importance of the place he holds in the piece as Strephon.
The music of "Iolanthe" is built on the lines with which Dr. Sullivan has made us familiar. In it are conspicuous the same sense of humour and the same ingenuity of construction. Both in vocal and instrumental writing his workmanship is invariably that of a master, and it would not be an easy matter to discover a loose joint in the musical structure of the latest work the honour of whose production he shares with Mr. Gilbert.
The chorus are a numerous and well-trained body, and the resident orchestra of the theatre justify their reputation by their treatment of Dr. Sullivan's instrumentation, though their numbers are not sufficient to obtain all the fine effects he has devised in the score. Mr. Ralph Horner conducts. It should be added that the piece is put on the stage with every attention to scenic detail, and that the large audience last night received "Iolanthe" with the utmost favour.
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