ARCHER, Frederic. Production of Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera, "Iolanthe." Music and Drama 1882 December 2 4(9): 5-6
The Standard Theatre was literally besieged on Saturday
evening by a huge crowd anxious to assist at the first representation of
"Iolanthe." Every seat was occupied, and every inch of standing room was
utilized. It was, besides, an unusually brilliant audience, most of the
leading members of the musical and dramatic art world being present, in
addition to the noble army of regular "first nighters."
The future fate of the new work cannot be prognosticated with certainty, but it may be stated at once that the book is fully up to Gilbert's usual mark, and the music full of interest, although frequently appealing rather to the musician than the ordinary theatre-goer.
The story of the opera may be described in very few words.
The Lord Chancellor, of England, has resolved to marry one of his own wards, of whom the whole House of Lords is likewise enamoured, when he discovers that his son, of whose existence he was previously unaware, has forestalled him in the young lady's affections. It is then made manifest by Iolanthe, a fairy, that she is the Chancellor's long lost wife, and the young lover, who is half fairy and half mortal, none other than their child. The father relents, and on being made acquainted with the fairy law, which renders marriage with a mortal an offence punishable with death, in order to avert tragic consequences suggests to the Queen of the Elves an amendment of the statute. She hesitates, but as all her band thereupon confess that they have, one and all, at different times, married Dukes, Earls and Lords, it is then and there enacted that for the future every fairy who does not marry a mortal shall die. The Gordian knot is thus untied and all ends happily.
Probably no other living librettist could have constructed an effective and interesting "book" with such slender materials as these, but Gilbert has given us dialogue, impregnated with a quaint and dry humor, beneath which lies a delicate vein of satire that is irresistible, while the ingenuity of construction, involving the introduction of some most amusing episodes, is equally worthy of note.
On the rise of the curtain, a charming Arcadian landscape, with a practicable bridge crossing the river at the back of the stage, is presented to view. A troop of fairies enter, to whom is assigned a chorus with interspersed solos for two of their number, in which they lament the loss of Iolanthe, who has married a mortal and incurred the penalty of her disobedience, although, as they are shortly afterward told by their Queen, that in consequence of her great love for the erring one, she "commuted her sentence to penal servitude for life." The fairies implore here to extend a free pardon, urging their affection for Iolanthe. The Queen replies as follows, in a speech which may be described as a delightful piece of fooling, of course considered in connection with the fact that the regal proportions are liberally developed:
"What was your love to mine? Why, she was invaluable to me! Who taught me to curl myself inside a butter-cup? Iolanthe! Who taught me to swing upon a cobweb? Iolanthe! Who taught me to dive into a dewdrop, to nestle in a nutshell, to gambol upon gossamer? Iolanthe."
She ultimately consents to receive her back, and at her summons the banished Peri rises from the stream. She explains her choice of watery quarters, by mentioning that her son, Strephon, who is betrothed to a ward in Chancery, lives in the immediate neighborhood. This son has reached the age of twenty-four, and his mother, thanks to the gift of immortality, appears to be some eight years younger, a circumstance that is afterwards productive of considerable amusement. Iolanthe thus describes Strephon, in answer to inquiry:
IO. – He's extremely pretty, but he's inclined to be stout.
ALL [disappointed]. – Oh!
QUEEN. – I see no objection to stoutness in moderation.
CELIA. – And what is he?
IO. – He's an Arcadian shepherd, and he loves Phyllis, a ward in Chancery.
CELIA. – A mere shepherd, and he half a fairy!
IO. – He's a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal.
CELIA. – Dear me!
QUEEN. – I have no reason to suppose that I am more curious than other people; but, I confess I should like to see a person who is a fairy down to the waist, but whose legs are mortal.
Hereupon he enters, dancing, accompanying himself on a flageolet, and in a song expresses his delight at the prospect of being "married to-day."
He then states to Iolanthe that the Lord Chancellor has refused his sanction to the wedding, but that nevertheless he is determined to defy him. He is then introduced to the assembled fairies, and begs of them not to divulge to his intended bride the secret of his duplex construction, as she "thinks him mortal, and prefers him so."
He laments in the following fashion his semi-fairyhood:
"What is the use of being half a fairy? My body can creep through a keyhole, but what's the good of that when my legs are left kicking behind? I can make myself invisible down to the waist, but that's of no use when my legs remain exposed to view. My brain is a fairy brain, but from the waist downward I am a gibbering idiot. My upper half is immortal, but my lower half grows older every day, and some day or other must die of old age. What's to become of my upper half when I've buried my lower half, I really don't know."
The Queen suggests his entering Parliament, whereupon he rejoins:
"I'm afraid I should do no good there. you see, down to the waist I'm a fairy [sic] of the most determined description, but my legs are a couple of confounded Radicals, and on a division they'd be sure to take me into the wrong lobby. You see, they're two to one, which is a strong working majority."
The Queen, Iolanthe and fairies then depart and Phyllis enters a la Strephon. She urges him to wait two years, when she will be of age and her own mistress. He objects, and after a duet they depart together.
[to be continued]
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 26 January 2001