|Iolanthe > Reviews > No.1 "Iolanthe" Company in Bristol
From The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Tuesday, June 5, 1883; Issue 10938.
Messrs. Chute seem determined that their patrons shall have no ground of complaint for lack of variety, for scarcely have they had time to dry their eyes after weeping over the hapless fates of the young Veronese lovers, Romeo and Juliet, than they find themselves called upon to indulge in boisterous laughter at the humour and absurdities of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, "Iolanthe." The latest triumph of the authors of the "Pinafore," the "Pirates of Penzance," and "Patience," was introduced to Bristol playgoers last night, and will be repeated during the remaining evenings of the week and at a day performance on Saturday.
Opinions may differ, and indeed we know do differ, respecting the relative merits of the four operas named, some according the palm to one and some to another. For ourselves we think there are respects in which "Iolanthe," musically considered, hardly reaches the mark of the "Pirates" or "Patience," There are, however, others in which, as an opera, it boasts advantages over its predecessors. Its association with fairy lore, and its strange blending of the material with the ethereal, has afforded too free scope for the flow of Mr. Gilbert's whimsical fancy, whilst the story admits in the arrangement of its scenes of picturesque situations and effective display. There can be no question, we think, with any one conversant with the two popular writers' previous works of "Iolanthe's" paternity. We note the originality and comic conceits and the witty and sparkling dialogue of Mr. Gilbert in the libretto, whilst the music boasts the flow of melody, the well-attuned harmonies, and quite as much as either the distinctive mastery of orchestral combination which are to be noted oven in the lightest of Mr. Sullivan's compositions.
Some of the numbers are remindful of others we have met with in Mr. Sullivan's writings, just as the lines upon which the plot is shaped and the characters by which it is developed recall memories of Mr. Gilbert. We are unaware, however, of any law against men of genius gathering ideas from themselves, and, despite all this, "Iolanthe" is an amusing, mirthful, and musically charming work, and well deserves the popularity it has won.
Of course Mr. Gilbert has not forgotten to have a few hits at matters political, and many of the topics of the day are referred to in the dialogue. His satire, however, is always neat and good-tempered, so that "it breathes no offence."
The plot of the opera may be thus briefly sketched. Twenty-five years before the action commences, Iolanthe, the fairy from whom the piece 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 of penal servitude for life. The marriage of the fairy has resulted in the birth of "a bouncing boy," and the desire of Iolanthe to be near him condemns her to stand on her head at the bottom of a stream. 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 rescued, 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 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 holding affectionate converse with her is misinterpreted by Phyllis, who casts him off. The youth, in despair, summons 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 be 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.
In the second act we exchange the Acadian regions in which fairies disport themselves for the more prosaic neighbourhood of Palace-yard, Westminster. The two smitten lords finding that they are unable to 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 all duchesses, marchionesses, viscountesses, and baroness.
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, out of which conceit much fun is produced. In the end, however, matters are made happy by the resolution of the Lord Chancellor and all the peers to become fairies, and as the curtain descends their wings begin to sprout, and they are supposed to be flying off to Fairyland.
We find that we were in error in saying that the company now entrusted with the representation of the opera is the same as appeared in it at Bath. Two or three of the most successful amongst that troupe are here, but the company as a whole is a much stronger one. It loses indeed nothing, we think, in comparison with that at the London house.
The important part of the Queen of the Fairies is held by Miss Fanny Harrison, who must be favourably remembered as Ruth in the "Pirates of Penzance," and Lady Jane in "Patience." Her singing and acting last night left nothing to desire. Her fine voice and impressive style told in all the music, whilst in "Oh, foolish fay," her vocalisation was so perfect and her rich contralto notes were brought out so artistically that an encore was inevitable. She also evoked a redemand for the lively aria, "Into Parliament he shall go." Those who remember her commanding presence will not be surprised to learn that she gave rise to much merriment when speaking of Iolanthe as having taught her how to curl herself up inside a buttercup, swing upon a cobweb, and dive into a dewdrop.
Miss Laura Clement, who won high favour at former engagements in Bristol, both in the "Pirates" and in "Pinafore," was the Phyllis. She acted naïvely and sang all the music with so much sweetness that we could not help feeling regret that Mr. Sullivan had not assigned to the character some more important solo.
Iolanthe found a very pretty and very competent representative in Miss Beatrix Young. She won deserved applause for all which she did, and the minor characters of Celia and Lelia in the hands of Miss M. Duggan and Miss Kate Forster received an importance well in harmony with the general excellence of the representation.
The part of the shepherd Strephon was effectively rendered by Mr. F. Federici, who not only acquitted himself very satisfactorily in the singing, but infused into the part a vein of quiet humour which was very acceptable. Mr. Cadwaladr, whose fine tenor voice has gained much in volume since he was here in "Pinafore," was heard to great advantage as the Earl of Tolloller. Mr. Walter Greyling was also excellent as the Earl of Mountararat, and gave the song, "When Briton really ruled the wave," [sic] in a manner which won a vociferous re-dernand. In the character of the grenadier guardsman we recognised Mr. Marler, whose sergeant of police in the "Pirates" always proved so immensely popular. The music assigned to the red-coat is not so catching as that which was allotted to the man in blue, but Mr. Marler both sang and acted like a true artist.
The part of the Lord Chancellor, filled by Mr. Frank Thornton, forms, of course, a central figure in the action. The character is drawn somewhat on the lines of Sir Joseph Porter in "Pinafore" and the Major-General in the "Pirates," and has its character and patter songs; "The land is the true embodiment," [sic] and "When you're lying awake," both of which were encored. There is something intensely witty in the utterances of the love-sick judge, when endeavouring to realise his exact position as a Lord Chancellor in love with his own ward, and they ware given with a quaint humour which proved provocative of a great deal of merriment.
Probably "Iolanthe" depends more than either of the other pieces we have named upon the richness and elaboration of its concerted and orchestral music, and the way in which all the difficult points were taken last night, especially considering that it was a first representation, was more than creditable to the company, the orchestra, and all concerned. The finale to the first act is as trying a composition as can be found in many operas, and it went with an amount of spirit which quite exhilarated the large audience.
The scenery reflected great credit on Mr. Barraud's pencil, Palace-yard on a moonlight night being a wonderfully realistic set. The costumes and properties also were exceedingly beautiful, and the performance as a whole was so satisfactory and evoked so much enthusiasm that we shall expect to see the house crowded nightly.
Page modified 2 December, 2011 Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.