|Iolanthe > Reviews > "F" Company in Belfast
The Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Ireland), Tuesday, June 10, 1884; Issue 21494.
Those who are acquainted with Mr. Gilbert's peculiar vein of humour will fully understand how congenial a task to the author of the "Bab Ballads" should be the writing of a "fairy opera," as "Iolanthe" is designated. The "topsy-turvydom" in which Mr. Gilbert has always revelled may be found in that enchanted realm of faërie, where the scene of "Iolanthe" is laid, but certainly to no greater extent than in "Patience" and "Princess Ida," to say nothing of "The Sorcerer," or "The Pirates of Penzance." The scene of each of these works is within the boundaries of fairyland, for the personages look at all affairs of life not with the eyes of the rational inhabitants of the world, but as the dwellers in a region where the conditions of life are widely different from those to which mortals are bound down.
As Mr. Gilbert's humour in such pieces as "The Sorcerer," and "The Pirates," consists in making the most prosaic of human beings talk and think and act like the people of a fairy region, so in "Iolanthe" the vein of burlesque is carried out by making the legitimate fairies talk and act like the most prosaic of human beings. No writer ever worked out such a subtle vein of burlesque before Mr. Gilbert, for every humorist of his order seems to have fancied that breadth of treatment only could make a burlesque effective with a modern audience; consequently we have had shown to us in many travesties upon the Greek myths the personages behaving not merely in a commonplace manner, but with an amount of freedom that would be regarded as outrageous if associated with the most free-and-easy of mortals. Funny enough in their own way these burlesques undoubtedly were; but we certainly think that Mr. Gilbert's are much more humorous, because, instead of making his fairy characters grotesque, he merely makes them incongruous.
In the charmingly fanciful piece which was produced at the theatre last evening, this subtle element of burlesque is to be found, though the humour of the libretto is by no means limited to the passages in which it is developed. The satire upon the stilted seventeenth century ideal inhabitants of Arcadia is charming in its humour. People are only led to wonder that the artificial "Pastorals" of Pope, which were reproduced by the ladies of the French Court in their fêtes champêtres, and afterwards painted by Watteau and Bouchier upon countless plaques and vases, were not regarded as burlesques in themselves. The village maidens in white satin shoes with high painted heels, and the swains piping on tabors with velvet jackets and diamond-buckled shoes, were not more perfect travesties upon nature than Mr. Gilbert's burlesques upon the same Arcadians. Nothing could be more amusing than Mr. Gilbert's Strephon and Phyllis — these types of what he calls "Ovidius nature" — and the idea of making the latter a ward in Chancery is perfectly GIlbertian. In the same vein the Lord Chancellor is dealt with, and very natural is his complaint that though his occupation of sitting in court all day giving pretty girls away is highly agreeable, yet
The "inconvenient side" he describes to us very plainly, for he sings —
This lyric is in Mr. Gilbert's happiest style, and the patter song of the Lord Chancellor is equally clever, and may be pronounced the very best of this character to be found in any of the comic operas that have come from the same pen; it contains a point of satire in every line, and is infinitely more playful in its sarcasm than the judge's song in "Trial by Jury." In making the Lord Chancellor the husband of a fairy, Mr. Gilbert has gone to the extreme limits of incongruity.
It is unnecessary to say that this element of incongruity is to be found in many other situations throughout the work; Mr, Gilbert is at his best when he brings together the extremes of prosaic life and poetical fancifulness, and we do not think he has ever succeeded in producing more ludicrous effects than in the libretto of "Iolanthe."
With regard to Sir Arthur Sullivan's music not much need be said. The principal airs were familiar to the public within the first few months after the production of the opera in London at the early part of last year [sic]. The work abounds in melody, and many of the airs possess a quaint charm of their own, without rising to any high point of artistic excellence. Sir Arthur Sullivan is certainly no plagiarist; he is invariably original, except when he repeats himself. In "Iolanthe" may be found some unconscious echoes of the composer's previous compositions, and the system of orchestration pursued at many parts is highly suggestive of "The Sorcerer."
In respect to the performance of the work last evening little except of praise can be said. We have had many previous opportunities of recognising the conscientious manner in which Mr. D'Oyly Carte organises his companies for the reproduction of the comic operas of Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Mr. D'Oyly Carte never allows a second class company to go into the provinces and jeopardise by an indifferent performance the success of any of the works with which his name has been for so long associated. Nothing could have been better than the ensemble of last night. The choruses were given steadily and with spirit, and the several solos were rendered in capital style.
Miss Marion Grahame as Phyllis, at once an Arcadian shepherdess and a Ward in Chancery, gave a charming interpretation of the part, and Miss Haidee Crofton, in the character of Iolanthe, the fairy mother, sustained the role to perfection. Miss Alice Barnett was the Queen of the Fairies, and certainly the part could not have been entrusted to an artiste more competent to sustain it. Mr. John Wilkinson as the Lord Chancellor, Mr. Hervet D'Egville as Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd and the lover of Phyllis; Mr. T.W Hemsley, Earl of Mountararat; and Mr. James Sydney, Earl of Tolloller, were fully equal to the humour demanded of them; while Mr. George Marler as Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards, was thoroughly successful.
The remaining characters were capitally sustained, and the frequent demonstrations of approval from the audience testified to the popularity with which the production of "Iolanthe" in Belfast is certain to secure. The house was crowded, and from the rise of the curtain to the closing scene the opera was thoroughly and cordially appreciated.
The Era (London, England), Saturday, June 14, 1884; Issue 2386.
THEATRE ROYAL. — Proprietor and Manager, Mr. J. F. Warden; Business Manager and Treasurer, Mr. W. Brickwell. — On Monday evening last Mr. D'Oyly Carte's company produced Iolanthe for the first time here. The various characters found very suitable representatives in the members of the strong company. Miss Barnett, who takes the part of the Fairy Queen, uses her fine contralto voice to much advantage, and gained well deserved applause. Mr. Wilkinson's impersonation of the Lord Chancellor is also very good. Miss Crofton made a most sympathetic Iolanthe, and Miss Marion Grahame was charming as Phyllis.
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