The Entr'acte and Limelight : a Theatrical and Musical Critic and Advertiser
1882 December 2 701:13

[unsigned review]

    "Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri," the new opera by Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, is quite a companion work to those which this firm has previously supplied us; and during its first performance last Saturday, we were being constantly reminded of its predecessors. Given that a new opera is successful, it never compares favourably with a lately-relinquished one that has made its mark, and with whose virtues we are thoroughly familiar. Visitors at the Savoy on Saturday were not enthyusiastic, neither were they sanguine. They shook their heads, and if they admitted that the book and music had merits, they also informed their audience that "Iolanthe" was by no means a "Patience" or a "Pinafore." But the public held a higher opinion of the last-mentioned works after they had heard them twice or three times, than when they listened and looked at them on the first nights of their performance; and probably when "Iolanthe" has lived a few weeks, its virtues will become more manifest than were they on Saturday last. Mr. Gilbert is a thoroughbred satirist, and nobody pokes fun at frothy ideals and sickly transcendentalism so successfully as he. Some people go through the world with a seeming dislike for every notion and theory which can be demonstrated by rule-of-thumb; they dislike science, and cling to ideals which they consider altogether too superior to undergo the truth-tests applied to ordinary facts. Mr. Gilbert is not one of those; he is an adept at detecting the weak points of theories that cannot be substantiated by that evidence which can be understood by everybody, and he ridicules the flaws of some of our boasted institutions, with a play of fancy which no other author shows. In the piece under notice he strikes out in no particularly new vein. In the "Wicked World" and "Pygmalion and Galatea" he has before had his fling at some mythical personages and reduced them to common-places; and the Chancellor who falls in love with "Iolanthe" is an unmistakable lineal descendent of the Judge who, in "Trial by Jury," fondles the good-looking plaintiff. At the commencement of the "Peer and the Peri," we find the fairies lamenting the long banishment of Iolanthe, who has married a mortal, and thereby incurred a death-penalty. On promising that she will leave her husband, and never communicate with him again, the sentence is commuted by the Queen to penal servitude for life.She is working out her sentence - to use the expression of Lelia [sic] - "on her head, at the bottom of that stream," on the banks of which the fairies stand. These now supplicate the Queen to restore her to their midst. The Queen relents, and Iolanthe is invoked. She comes from her abiding-place at the bottom of the river, and is covered with water-weeds, which speedily disappear as she gets to terra firma. She is pardones, and then she informs her sister fays that she has a son, one Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, who is half mortal and half fairy, and that he is in love with Phyllis, a ward in Chancery. Strephon here appears, and tells his mother that he is to be married on that very day; that the Lord Chancellor has vetoed the union, but that he and Phyllis are resolved to wed, regardless of the consequences. The fairies promise him assistance in the event of emergency, and depart. Soon after this we have a grand procession of Peers, followed by the Lord Chancellor, who admits that his affection for his ward Phyllis is undermining his constitution. The young lady no sooner appears before their lordships than we find that they are all in love; but Phyllis declares in favour of Strephon, until she sees him with his arm around the waist of his mother, who looks younger than himself. Notwithstanding the relationship existing between the two, she is naturally agitated, and Strephon's constancy is at once doubted. All the mortals laugh at the idea of an attractive young woman being the mother of a man of five-and-twenty, and Phyllis abjures her lover. Explanations are unavailing, and in this extremity Strephon invokes the aid of teh Fairy Queen, who hastens to the spot, and determines that Strephon shall enter Parliament, and have revenge by introducing such measures as will somewhat revolutionise matters. In the next act, which takes place in Palace Yard, Westminster, we find that Strephon is in Parliament, and that he is, in the language of Lord Mountararat, playing the deuce with everything. Phyllis learns, too, that Iolanthe is really Strephon's fairy mother, and she asks his forgiveness for suspecting his constancy. Strephon readily pardons her. There is still the consent of the Lord Chancellor to be obtained, and as this is a very delicate business, the young couple implore Iolanthe to go to him and plead their cause. Here we learn that the Lord Chancellor is no other than the husband Iolanthe has deserted. The appearance of the Lord Chancellor on the spot just at this time hastens matters, and Iolanthe intercedes for her son. His lordship is moved by her appeal, but he says that such an arrangement cannot possibly be made, for that Phyllis is his own promised bride. Stronger arguments are now set in motion, and these culminate in Iolanthe's avowal that she is the Lord Chancellor's wife. This settles the matter, and although Iolanthe is by the Queen of the Fairies sentenced to death, the monarchical fay finds that most of her other subjects have been falling in love with mortals; and, as she says, she cannot slaughter the whole company, she gets over the difficulty by making the Lord Chancellor, Peers, and even sentry, fairies; wings sprout from their shoulders at once, and all ends joyfully.

    We should not like to enter at any length upon the share of the work which Mr. Arthur Sullivan has executed. With such a brilliant audience before them, the performers on Saturday may be well excused for giving out symptoms of considerable nervousness and anxiety. Some of the concerted numbers suffered through this. After a few more performances, when the vocalists have gained confidence, it is certain that Mr. Sullivan's name will have a justice done to it which it failed to receive on Saturday. The entire performance, however, was excellent - as an initial one. Mr. George Grossmith, as the Lord Chancellor, is entrusted with a part which fits him splendidly. Mr. Gilbert, too, has been most liberal in his awards to this woolsack functionary: in fact, it may be said that most of the plums in the pudding have been given to the Lord Chancellor. In previous operas, Mr. Grossmith and Mr. Barrington have been favoured with parts of about equal strength, but in "Iolanthe" an evident new departure has been made, and Mr. Barrington has to content himself by playing a palpable second-fiddle. He plays it very well, too. Mr. Richard Temple, as Strephon, sings his music very admirably, but he seems too substantial to be half a fairy. Mr. Durward Lely's high voice is useful, though it is by no means of pleasant quality, and his histrionic capacity is very limited. Mr. Manners, as Sentry Willis, sings his only song - a capital one it is, too - with the best of effect. Miss Barnett, as the Queen of the Fairies, takes highest honours among the ladies. Miss Braham makes a very good Phyllis, but on Saturday she at times sang palpably out of tune. Miss Bond does all that is possible with the part of Iolanthe, and Mesdames Fortescue and Grey, as principal fairies, do their spiriting gently and gracefully. The two scenes that accompany the action are of a most satisfying order.


transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 18 February 2005