THE PLAYHOUSES. MESSRS. GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S NEW FAIRY OPERA. The Illustrated London News 1882 December 2 71(2274): 562, col. 2 [review by Clement Scott]

There is no end to the whimsicality of Mr. W. S. Gilbert; there is no limit to his facetious irreverence. He is our dramatic iconoclast; he has no respect for persons, however grave, or for institutions, however time-honoured. With one blow from his destroying hand, one blast from his ludicrous trumpet, down fall the gauzes that intervene between us and fairy-land, down topple the stately walls of the British Constitution. The one eternal motto that Mr. Gilbert is perpetually dinning into our ears is, omnia vincit amor! Love is omnipotent. He spares nobody. The Judge in wig and spectacles, venerable and sedate, sitting on the bench in a law court, looks a very respectable personage, and utterly free from the subtle influences of the tender passion.

    The author of so many eccentricities – they are not plays, or opems, or operas, or burlesques, they are unlike anything that has ever preceded them in the recorded history of the drama – has been true once more to his own creed in "Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri." The venerable personage who this time is complaining of his "amorous dove, type of Ovidius Naso," is none other than the Lord Chancellor of these realms: the seemingly unattractive personages who are levelled by the beams from a maiden's eye are none other than the assembled Peers, clad in their state robes and Court collars.

For my own part, I can discover no falling off whatever in the freshness or originality of Mr. Gilbert’s muse. It has been objected that the theme is the same; probably it was intended to be. It has been urged that the treatment of such a subject is exhausting before its close; but this has been felt before in other operas that have enjoyed a triumphant success. The exhaustion, I think, is mainly due to the rapt attention that the libretto requires, and to the unrestrained laughter that it elicits. In ordinary society, at a dinner-table or where not, a clever conversationalist or a witty companion can exhaust his listeners. They implore him to stop, not because he is boring them, but because they can literally laugh no more. He makes them ache with laughing, and the endurance of the human frame is limited. As to “Iolanthe,” I can only judge by my own feelings, and by them I should say that this opera would be as popular as any in the series. You will ask me why? and I answer because I want to see it again.

    I will leave to a more competent pen the task of saying something about Mr. Arthur Sullivan's music, which, to my mind, is as instinct with humour as Mr. Gilbert's words. Concerning these words, however, I may say something, having scribbled some verses at odd times these many years. They seem to me, so far as accuracy of rhyme, perfection of time, and fall and variety of metre, to be as good verses as could be made. Their humour stands for itself. There is no living writer who could produce such an example of finished and faultless work. Not a single rhyme jars upon the most sensitive ear; there is not one word misplaced. These things are supposed to count for nothing; but believe me when I say that they caused that rapt attention that resulted not in listless attitudes, but in rustling leaves. If writers of libretti only knew how to write verses their audiences would not be so continually bored; and Mr. Gilbert’s neatness of manufacture has had its inspiring effect.



NEW FAIRY OPERA AT THE SAVOY THEATRE. The Illustrated London News 1882 December 2 71(2274): 562, col. 3 [unsigned review]

"Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri" - the joint work of Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan, produced at the Savoy Theatre on Saturday evening – is noticed

transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 30 May 2001
Updated 13 October 2001