On this day…….

In 1882 Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri, opening at London’s Savoy Theatre.  In a first for any play, Iolanthe opened simultaneously in London and New York and two casts rehearsed alongside one another in the run up top opening night.

Iolanthe

W.S Gilbert first had his idea for a storyline similar to Iolanthe in one of his Bab Ballads entitled “The Fairy Curate” where a fairy marries a mortal.

In true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, Iolanthe is a satire poking fun at supposedly ineffectual and over-privileged House of Lords.  Iolanthe is often famed for its sumptuous costume and effects to make the fairy world ever more realistic.  In fact advances in technology meant that even in the very first shows, the fairies had headdresses of fairy lights powered by small batteries.

The absurdity of the show is not lost with all members of the House of Lords in love with the heroine Phyllis and Strephon in charge of the entire Parliament.  Upon opening, the operetta received rave reviews and critical acclaim.

Iolanthe was the first of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works to be performed by a non-D’Oyle Carte company when it was produced by the Sadler’s Wells Opera in January 1962.

One of the lines from the play “this comes of women interfering in politics” was oft-quoted when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister.  One of the most iconic songs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s canon – and certainly one of my favourites – the March of the Peers comes from Iolanthe and sounds utterly sublime when well performed by a good male voice.

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed Iolanthe on six occasions and of course our 2017 production will be Iolanthe, for which tickets are already on sale.

Iolanthe Flyer

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On this day…..

…….in 1877 Gilbert and Sullivan presented their operetta The Sorcerer to a packed house at the Opera Comique.

Image of John Wellington Wells

The Sorcerer was Gilbert and Sullivan’s third collaboration and was based on a short story by W.S Gilbert entitled The Elixir of Love.  The story centres on Alexis Pointdextre and his belief that love levels all rank, so strong a belief that he enlists the help of a sorcerer to provide him with a love potion.  Naturally things don’t quite go accordingly to plan and hilarity ensues when an entire village falls in love with the first person they, not to mention some marked confusion between a “filter” and a “philtre”.

The Sorcerer received good reviews initially but quickly fell out of favour and remains one of the less well known Savoy Operas, being overshadowed by the later successes.  The Sorcerer, unlike some of the more popular works, draws largely on satire of social convention and pastoral opera and loses some of the humour in translation for modern audiences.

The Sorcerer did however lay out the standard for later Gilbert and Sullivan productions in terms of appearance of regular roles; a comic baritone with a patter song, a tenor and soprano as lovers, and comic roles for a bass-baritone and a contralto.

Whilst less regularly performed than some of the more famous works, The Sorcerer has strong libretto and some wonderful songs, not least the fantastic “My Name is John Wellington Wells” performed by the ultimately doomed sorcerer.  Nevertheless, Isaac Asimov wrote an homage to The Sorcerer in his short story The Up to Date Sorcerer.

As with all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the impact on popular culture is marked.  Opera Della Luna veered from tradition with their 2009 performance of The Sorcerer when rather than Aline falling for Dr Daly, it is the male lead Alexis who sees the curate Dr Daly and falls madly in love thanks not in part to his own meddling!

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed The Sorcerer on five occasions, most recently in 2011 which marked Richard Thompson’s last performance with Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society as the Sorcerer himself.

 

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