AFTER the many vicissitudes of running the gauntlet of impulsive paragraphists, Mr. Gilbert has managed to produce Perola-cum-Iolanthe. It would seem a matter of the gravest importance that the brain-child of Gilbert and Sullivan should be brought into the world in the most secret and mysterious manner possible – heavy penalties were threatened to those who might divulge one note or line of the new work. The company at the Savoy Theatre had punishments of the most serious character held over them in the event of their suggesting, by sound or sign, the slightest inkling of what the great work might be about. The Clôture in imperial parliament became a mild measure in comparison with the gags inflicted upon those who were to take part in the new English comic opera. This course on the part of the author was naturally the very thing to encourage the prying propensities of the ventilators of the press, and shortly the public were as sufficiently informed upon the subject of the opera as they could well wish to be. This threw the gifted author into a series of violent tempers, rewards were offered for the detection of the culprit or culprits who had been guilty of laying bare the facts. The title underwent change, it was threatened even that the whole subject matter would be revolutionised, and again the paragraphists were happy in the possession of fresh material for their papers. All this may seem of vast importance to the author, but it is surely ridiculous on the eve of producing a dramatic work which must of necessity be the talk of not a couple, but a score or two of people connected. With all the show of a great surprise, the result of last Saturday's production of Iolanthe went to show that nothing very new had been achieved. The same string had once again been twanged, and the same quaint twisting of ideas gone through, with just that absence of novelty that is the natural result of repetition. The work is as good as it can be; smooth and polished where both author and composer are concerned; but there is a certain disappointment in finding that we must experience no new form of the fascination of the popular workmen. This plan of writing for a given set of artists, instead of suiting the required people, is too palpable, and we have to look forward to a continuation of such humour as Miss Alice Barnett making game of her own adiposity, which points a moral of unbounded good-nature upon that lady's part which is as large as her personnel. The new and original fairy opera will very much disappoint those who most admire the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. No distinct fault can be ascribed to it, but that it should be so good as it is and not better or more satisfying is the disappointing wonder. Brilliant, amusing, and beautiful it certainly is. No expense, care, or work has been spared to achieve the ends of making it perfect, but there is a want all through that those who have most eulogised the previous works – Trial by Jury, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Sorcerer, and Patience – will notice most. Mr. Grossmith is highly diverting as the Lord Chancellor, who, of course, has a song (which he speaks in a most unmusical manner), describing how he became what he is. Mr. R. Temple. as an Arcadian shepherd, and Miss Leonora Braham, as a shepherdess, are more truly within the bounds of operatic art. The choruses of peers and fairies are perfect in their way; and Messrs. Durward Lely and Rutland Barrington, as members of the House of Peers, have fair opportunities of displaying their manly forms in the splendid robes of the Garter, and look as like representatives of the House of Lords as need be. I believe that when the edict went abroad that it would be necessary for the members of the company who could boast moustaches to shave their lips much annoyance was felt by some of them – a pretty condition a profession has come to when a slight sacrifice of personal vanity is looked upon as a grievance. Neither Mr. Lely nor Mr. Barrington were of this foolish objection party. The title part is undertaken by Miss Jessie Bond. Old favourites like Miss Julia Gwynne, Miss Fortesque, [sic] and Miss Sybil Grey are relegated to small parts, which they fulfil with much grace. Everybody will, of course, go and see the new Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but they will not find so lasting a pleasure in connection with it as might reasonably have been expected.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 25 April 2002