You are here: Archive Home > Iolanthe > Reviews > No.1 "Iolanthe" Company in Newcastle
 
   
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Iolanthe
 
THE THEATRES.
"IOLANTHE" AT THE ROYALTY

From the Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Tuesday, August 7, 1883; Issue 188.

The Gilbertian doctrine, needless to say, is a type of philosophy realised only by its clever sponsor. In his hands the old, old story is omnipotent, for Mr. Gilbert's love philtres fairly astound by reason of their potency. At one swoop the conventional is ruthlessly bowled out; those who sit in high places are discovered scampering about Arcadia performing the biggest of jinks, luxuriating, revelling in the fascinations of a grotesque Elysium. With cunning subtlety and force which are his alone the author of "The Bab Ballads" pokes mirth-provoking fun at the anomalies and absurdities of our work-a-day life.

His satire has been aimed at the army and the navy, at our jury system, and at the votaries of æstheticism and kindred nonsense; a grave ecclesiastic has before now been told off to pipe a rondo, or to trip right merrily the light fantastic. Nothing, indeed, escapes the barbed shafts of Sir Arthur Sullivan's collaborateur, and if "Iolanthe" does not break absolutely new ground, there is small occasion for wonder, inasmuch as the peculiarities of this, that and the other thing have already been hit at in such works as "Pinafore," "Patience," "The Sorcerer" – the most artistic of the lot, by the way – and other familiar operas.

"Iolanthe" is the latest of the Gilbert-Sullivan collaborations, and this was the work which Mr. Knapp presented last night at the Royalty, and to a crowded audience. Originally produced at the Savoy Theatre on 25th November last, the opera has had a remarkable success there. It is still running at Mr. D'Oyly Carte's house, and it would be hazardous to say when its prosperous course shall end.

The newcomer, as regards plot, has little to say for itself, the story, or rather eccentricity, being laid on a somewhat slender basis. The "book" opens with a fairy chorus, wherein Mr. Gilbert's paradoxical vein very speedily asserts itself. His elves, fays, brownies, and such-like gentry "hide themselves in lovers' hearts," they verily "live on lover, tripping hither, tripping thither, nobody knows why or whither." There is a Fairy Queen, of course, and she it is who at length forgives Iolanthe for the dread sin of marrying a mortal. On the return of the pardoned fay to terrestrial scenes she encounters her son Strephon – an Arcadian shepherd and half fairy of five-and-twenty summers – on the eve of his union with Phyllis, a rustic maiden and ward in Chancery. The "only joy" is, however, a source of some trouble, and it so happens that the Lord Chancellor has heard wondrous tales of her charms. In a song for the Keeper of the Great Seal he admits the susceptible side of his nature:–

"For I'm not so old and I'm not so plain,
And I'm quite prepared to marry again,
  But there'd be the deuce to pay in the Lords
If I fell in love with one of my wards."

Then, as if to complete the drollery of the situation, Mr. Gilbert contrives that his legal luminary should deliver himself of the following refreshing lines(?):–

"And every one who'd marry a ward
Must come to me for my accord,
  And in my court I sit all day,
Giving agreeable girls away,
With one for him – and one for he –
And one for you – and one for ye –
And one for thou – and one for thee –
But never, oh, never a one for me!"

Phyllis now appears before her guardian and his brother Peers. There are high bids for her heart and hand, but she spurns the nobly born in spite of the entreaties of Lord Tolloller, a personage who urges the maiden to

"Spare us the bitter pain of stern denials,
Nor with low-born disdain augment our trials;
  Hearts just as pure and fair
May beat in Belgrave Square
    As in the lowly air
Of Seven Dials."

The meeting between the Lord Chancellor and Strephon is humorous, so also the ditty which the limb of the law sings in praise of his own various resolves in days gone by. One quotation will suffice:–

"When I went to the bar as a very young man
  (Said I to myself, said I),
I'll work on a new and original plan
  (Said I to myself, said I),
I'll never assume that a rogue or a thief
Is a gentleman worthy implicit belief,
Because his attorney has sent me a brief
  (Said I to myself, said I)."

Fairies have a knack, it seems, of preserving their youth and beauty, and thus Iolanthe wills it that her personal appearance shall be that of "sweet seventeen." Strephon is discovered with his arms around the beauteous fay, In vain he argues –

  "This lady's my mother…
Of evidence I have no dearth.
She is – has been – my mother from my birth."

The rejected one must needs be avenged and thus "into Parliament he shall go, backed by our supreme authority."    

"He shall end the cherished rights
You enjoy on Wednesday nights;
  He shall prick that annual blister –
Marriage with deceased wife's sister;
Title shall ennoble then
All the common councilmen;
  Peers shall teem in Christendom,
And a Duke's exalted station
  Be attainable by com-
  petitive examination!"

The second act takes us to Palace Yard, Westminster, where a sentry, in a pretty song, thus states his philosophy:–

"When all night long a chap remains
He exercises of his brains,
  That is, assuming that he's got any.
*          *          *          *          *          *
I often think it's comical,
  How nature always does contrive
That ev'ry boy and ev'ry gal,
  That's born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
  Or else a little Con-ser-va-tive."

The Peers arrive on the scene and lament how –

"Strephon's a member of Parliament!
  Running amuck of all abuses,
His unqualified ascent
  Somehow nobody now refuses."

Lord Mountararat sings a comical travesty concerning the period "When Britain really ruled the waves." The Queen of the Fairies admits the existence of the tender passion after this manner:–

"Oh, amorous dove, type of Ovidius Naso,
  This heart of mine is soft as thine,
Although I dare not say so,
  Oh, Captain Shaw, type of true love kept under!
Could thy brigade with cold cascade
  Quench my great love I wonder!"

The Lord Chancellor discourses a characteristic patter song, eventually reconciles himself to the propriety of marrying his own ward, and the wonderful spectacle of the highest legal functionary in the land dancing a waltz measure, emphasises the matrimonial prospect. All is not yet, however, over, for Iolanthe, turns out to be the Chancellor's long lost spouse. Strephon and Phyllis are made one. In the approved Gilbertian style, the Peers are transformed into fairies, and thus it is unnecessary to say how the general pairing off is satisfactorily adjusted.

As of yore, whimsical conceit, racy humour, sallies of wit, the diction of extravaganza, and the hundred and one drolleries common to Mr. Gilbert are through this odd fantasy.

Coming to the music which Sir Arthur Sullivan has wedded thereto, it need not be said that it is singularly appropriate. It is remarkable for agreeable rhythm and pretty melody rather than fertility of resource. In several numbers Sir Arthur is instead reminiscent of himself and of others – a fact which may or may not suggest the notion that the constructive power of the composer in the domain of comic opera is not altogether progressive. Sir Arthur's firmest friends do say that he ought to rest content with the laurels already so conspicuously won in this department of his art, and that the time has fully arrived when he might again turn his attention to composition of abiding interest. It would, none the less, be mere affectation to say that the latest example of his workmanship does not hit the tastes of thousands of his patrons. On the contrary, "Iolanthe" is a distinct success from the view of the entrepreneur, and that, we apprehend, is no small matter. Last night's audience, we are also bound to say, unhesitatingly approved of some old friends in a slight change of raiment, and certified once more that the conductor of the coming Leeds Musical Festival has not appealed in vain.

The concerted music, it occurs to us, is by no means the least attractive feature of the opera, albeit that assigned to the fairies is hardly what might have been expected from Sir Arthur's keen sense of the refined and graceful. Other noticeable numbers comprise the amusing and pompous "Peers March and Chorus" – signalised last night by the aggressiveness of the brass instruments; the tuneful trio "Of all the young ladies I know," and the ambitious finale to Act 1, wherein we have a hit at the grand opera, interwoven with some bright and exhilarating morceaux, yet not altogether free from a dash of the opera bouffe element.

The pizzicati accompaniment to be found in the duet for "Leila and Celia" in Act 2 is effective and the well constructed quartett "Though p'raps I may incur" pleased so well that the audience re-demanded it.

Little space has been left us to refer to the representation of the opera. In general it was a worthy one. Miss Laura Clement won hearty recognition as a bright and piquant exponent of the character of Phyllis. Miss Beatrix Young personates Iolanthe with grace and intelligence, features which also accompany the acting of Misses Forster, Duggan and Carstairs. Miss Fanny Harrison is an excellent Queen of the Fairies, her experience as a vocalist standing her in good stead. Into the song "Oh, am'rous dove" she imparted much humour, and a hearty encore was the inevitable result.

Mr. Frank Thornton's histrionic ability enabled him to present the character of the Lord Chancellor with unflagging drollery, Messrs Greyling, Federici, Cadwaladr, and Marler being also successful in their respective parts.

A little roughness incidental to a "first night" marked the efforts of the band and chorus, but this is a matter which Mr. Arnold, the conductor, can easily put to rights. Mr. Smyth has not been found wanting in the pretty scenery which has been painted for the occasion, and it only remains to be said that the costumes are bright and signally appropriate.


Archive Home  |  Iolanthe  |  Reviews

Page modified 8 December, 2011 Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.