Country Life 1901 December 21 [unsigned review]
THE revival of "Iolanthe" at the Savoy adds appreciably
to the gaiety of the nation's capital. Here we have genuine Gilbert-Sullivan
almost at its best. "Iolanthe" wears extraordinarily well. It was always
one of the wittiest and most melodious of the wonderful series – it remains
one of the freshest. The things it satirises exist to-day. The Law is not
very much less of a "hass." Most "actual," in view of recent events, is
the fun at the expense of the Lord Chancellorship in its position of guardian
to marriageable minors. And, with the exception of "The Mikado," "Patience,"
and "The Yeomen of the Guard," in all the series of these ten delicious
operas, there is none with a more uninterrupted flow of pure melody than
"Iolanthe," which has just been revived at the Savoy for the first time
since its original representation in 1882.
The fairy element in "Iolanthe" lends it one of its greatest charme. It gives free rein to composer and librettist. Sullivan differentiated them with that sensitive fancy, that quick and perfect appreciation of the meaning of the words, which with him were genius, and which wit hother composers, unhappily, are so rare. Strephon, one of whose parents was mortal and the other fairy, and who, consequently, is a fairy down to his waist, and a mere mortal in his legs and feet,affords an example of the quaint imagination of the author and the delightful versatility of the musician. The "highly susceptible" Lord Chancellor, whose interrogative attitude towards the problem of the probable fate of a dignitary like himself who should fall in love with one of his own wards-in-Chancery and commit contempt of his own Court, is Gilbertian humour at its very best; and that very best has no superior on the stage of our country in our time.
The representation of the opera is thoroughly diverting, artistic, and musical, although no single member of the original cast remains to form a connecting link with the first run of the opera nearly twenty years ago. Mr. Walter Passmore, for instance, is by far the most genuine humorist the Savoy has possessed. As the Chancellor he is irresistibly droll. His dry grotesquerie, his agile dancing keep the stage merry whenever he is on it. His assumption of dignified importance in the most ludicrous situations is "immense." Miss Rosina Brandram, whom we are glad to see once more in a character worthy of her rich powers, as the Fairy Queen sings in her own perfect style, and acts with that assumption of seriousness which is a tradition at the Savoy, and which illustrates so completely the peculiar 'inwardness" of the meaning of the author. Mr. H. A. Lytton, whose voice has such a charming quality, and whose acting is always quietly effective, is admirably suited to the character of Strephon, the shepherd. Miss Louie Pounds is a dainty, sweet-voiced, fascinating Iolanthe.
The Savoy company, alone of any organisation in London, is a real "stock company," inasmuch as the actor and actress playing hero and heroine in one piece may be seen in the next in characters comparatively unimportant. Mr. Evett, the tenor, and Mr. Powis Pinder, are the two lovelorn aristocrats, and we think none the less of the importance and "standing" of Mr. Evett because he is not the central figure of the opera, as the tenor – when there is one – is usually expected to be. In any other troupe than this, Mr. Evett would have temporarily retired from the cast while a less important member of the company essayed this comaratively minor rôle. Miss Isabel Jay, as Phyllis, Mr. Crompton, as Private Willis, Miss Agnes Fraser, Miss Hart Dyke, and Miss Isabel Agnew in smaller parts aids [sic] admirably the general effect. The chorus and orchestra – which in this work are used so amusingly and so thoroughly individually by the composer – are of the high standard of the Savoy.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 22 April 2003