|Iolanthe > Reviews > No.1 "Iolanthe" Company in Liverpool
From The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, May 16, 1883; Issue 8783.
Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's latest opera, which has been running at the London Savoy Theatre since the 25th of last November, was performed in Derby for the first time on Friday and Saturday last, on both of which occasions the audience, as might have been expected, was a large one. Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan have created a public for themselves, and, moreover, "Iolanthe" is well worthy of the popularity that is likely to be accorded to it. Much of the music is graceful or humorous, and much of the libretto is ingenious or amusing. Nevertheless, we are bound to express our conviction that "Iolanthe" is, on the whole, and in comparison with its predecessors, the least satisfactory of the authors' co-works.
With the details of the plot, of course, no one would think of cavilling. Mr. Gilbert in this respect is a law unto himself. Iolanthe is a fairy, who has a son called Strephon, a shepherd. Strephon is in love with Phyllis, a shepherdess, but his lady love's jealousy is aroused by the appearance of Iolanthe, who being immortal, is ever young, and whom Phyllis will not believe to be Strephon's mother. Moreover, Phyllis is beloved, not only by fifty members of the House of Peers, but by the Lord Chancellor himself, who is about to marry her, when it is divulged that Iolanthe is his wife, whom he has thought dead for many years. It is destruction for a fairy to avow her marriage to a mortal, and Iolanthe would perish but for the intercession of the Lord Chancellor, who suggests a useful modification of the law. The Queen of the Fairies accepts the modification, and marries Private Willis, a Grenadier, whilst the fairies pair off with the Peers who have been so unsuccessful in their pursuit of Phyllis.
Of course, all this is nonsense, but, as they say in "Patience," it is "precious nonsense," and is full of agree able whimsicality. The "book," however, is not, as a whole, up to the mark of "Patience" or the "Pirates." Some of the songs are, to be sure, very neatly turned, for instance, in the case of the ditty sung in the first act by the Lord Chancellor:—
Truly Gilbertian, again, is the ballad in which Earl Tolloller protests against the supposition that members of the aristocracy are not as virtuous and affectionate as less highly-born mortals:—
Private Willis has to sing a song about the House of Commons, which is admirable in its polished mockery:—
We need hardly say that the dialogue contains not a few isolated gems in Mr. Gilbert's very best manner. Excellent, for example, is the passage in which Lord Mountararat asks — "With a House of Peers composed exclusively of people of intellect, what's to become of the House of Commons?" Funny, too, is the colloquy between the Queen and Celia — "Oh, this is weakness! Subdue it!" "We know it's weakness, but the weakness is so strong!" We do not deny that the "book" of "Iolanthe" is, on the whole, diverting, but we do say that sometimes the writing in it is very strained, and that rarely is it so spontaneous as in the other operas. Strephon is represented as a fairy to the waist, and a mortal from thence downwards; but no real fun is developed from that fact, though much cleverness is bestowed upon its illustration. There is a scene between Tolloller and Mountararat in the second act, which inevitably suggests a very similar scene between Bunthorne and Grosvenor in "Patience;" and the Queen and the Lord Chancellor have to say things which would be meaningless if the former was not played by a large woman and the latter by a little man.
The music, too, lacks, as a whole, the freshness and entrain of the other works in the series. There are, of course, delightful things in it. We may note, especially, the opening chorus of fairies, with its agreeably tripping melody; the clever ditty in the pastoral style by which the hero and the heroine introduce themselves; the truly charming love duet between Strephon and Phyllis; the finely-scored march and effective chorus accorded to the Peers; the delicate humour of the Lord Chancellor's first two songs; the amusing contrast between the words and air of the ballad by Tolloller above-quoted; and the irresistible joviality of the "taradiddle" chorus. All these are in the first act, and in the second there are such attractive morceaux as Private Willis's song, so well adapted to the words; Lord Mountararat's solo, equally well conceived for the purpose; the humorous duet and chorus, "Don't go;" the Queen's graceful melody, with its genuinely funny refrain; the skilfully written quartette, "In friendship's name;" the Lord Chancellor's ingenious patter-song; the lively trio, "Faint heart never won fair lady;" and Iolanthe's sentimental ballad. Mr. Sullivan once more shows how perfectly he can illustrate Mr. Gilbert's meaning, whilst the orchestration is perhaps more delicate and intricate than in any of the operas by this writer. On the whole, however, neither the music nor the libretto of "Iolanthe" can be said to be quite so attractive as those of its popular predecessors.
And unfortunately, on Friday and Saturday last, the opera cannot be said to have had full justice done to it. The absence of instrumentalists deprived the work of the assistance of Mr. Sullivan's admirable orchestration, and this, together with the like absence of a military band on the stage and the exceeding tenuity of the male chorus (five in all), rendered the performance of the Peer's March and Chorus simply ludicrous to those who had seen the thing properly done at the Savoy. And the lack of instrumentalists and sufficient male choristers is to be regretted all the more because the company that appeared in Derby last week is, so far as principals and female choristers are concerned, an excellent one.
The artists are nearly all young in the profession, but some of them are of considerable promise, and some — such as Mr. D'Egville (late of the Carl Rosa Company) and Miss Millie Vere (of the "Olivette" and "Pirates of Penzance" troupes) — are performers of experience as well as of skill. It may be said of the Phyllis of the occasion — Miss Josephine Findlay — that she is somewhat too restless in her acting, and that there is too much of the vibrato in her vocalization; and Mr. C. J. Stanley, the Lord Mountararat, though well-favoured vocally, has much to learn yet as an actor. Taking, however, one consideration with another, it may be said that the principals in this "No. 2" company are decidedly above the average even of the provincial troupes sent out by Mr. D'Oyly Carte. Mr. D'Egville has a baritone organ of exceptional purity and sonority, and his acting (as Strephon) it; full of care and judgment. Mr. Pounds, the Lord Tolloller, has a tenor voice of equally unusual sweetness and clearness, and his acting, also, is marked by much intelligence and neatness. Mr. Cooper Cliffe, as Private Willis, sings his one song with admirable distinctness and point, and well deserves the encore which, we should say, he invariably receives. Mr. Wilkinson, the Lord Chancellor, has not quite the figure for the part, and is not always well heard, but he sings and acts with a keen appreciation of the humour of the words and situations, and it is notable that on Friday last all his three solos were vociferously encored — a fact which shows that his performance meets with hearty popular approval. Of Miss Findlay it may be added that she has an attractive appearance, that her voice has much freshness, and that she has an intelligent conception of the part. Miss Jessie Louise is a fairly acceptable Iolanthe; Miss Isabelle Muncey is a pleasing, though perhaps not sufficiently weighty, Queen of the Fairies; and Miss Millie Vere gives distinction to the small — the too small — part of Lelia. The female chorus are clever and capable, and by their excellent singing and acting secured on Friday an encore for "Don't go."
Mr. W. Robinson presides ably at the piano which does duty for the orchestra; the stage management (including the setting of an effective scene for Act 1) is in the competent hands of Mr. Welbye Wallace; and the whole arrangements are under the experienced control of Mr. Carte's trusty aide-de-camp, Mr. Herbert Brook. "Iolanthe" will be welcomed in Derby again, but it is to be hoped that Mr. Carte will then send round a few instrumentalists and a more adequate quota of Peers.
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