The English National Opera present Iolanthe, a brilliantly funny, satirical fantasy that reveals a typically Gilbert & Sullivan-esque topsy-turvy world.
Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. Phyllis doesn’t know that Strephon is half fairy (literally – his upper half is fairy while his legs are mortal!) so when she sees Strephon kissing a seemingly young woman, she assumes the worst. However, little does she know that this young woman is actually none other than Strephon’s own mother, Iolanthe, a fairy — fairies never grow old you see.
To complicate maters even further, Strephon isn’t the only one fighting for Phyllis’s affection. Phyllis’s guardian, the Lord Chancellor and half the peers in the House of Lords want to marry Phyllis too. Soon the fairies and the peers are virtually at war, with Strephon on one side, the Lord Chancellor on the other and Phyllis in the middle. Long friendships are nearly torn asunder. But all gets sorted out in the end thanks to the “subtleties of the legal mind”.
Iolanthe opened at the Savoy Theatre on 25 November 1882 and ran for 398 performances. Both Gilbert and Sullivan were at the height of their creative powers at this time and many people feel that Iolanthe, their seventh work together, is the most perfect of their collaborations.
Gilbert had taken pot shots at the aristocracy in previous works, but in Iolanthe the House of Lords is lampooned as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted. The political party system and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire. Gilbert not only targets peers of the realm, but also offers thinly disguised portraits of Queen Victoria, John Brown (her personal servant and ‘close companion’), Lord Randolph Churchill (reformist Tory) and William Gladstone (Liberal PM of the day). Yet, both author and composer manage to couch these criticisms among such bouncy, amiable absurdities that it is all received as good fun.
Cal McCrystal (One Man, Two Guvnors) directs a production that embraces the chaotic physical comedy and irreverence that are his hallmarks. Outstanding young mezzo-soprano and ENO Harewood Artist Samantha Price leads a cast of ENO favourites, including Andrew Shore as the Lord Chancellor.
Sung in English, with surtitles projected above the stage.
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