Iolanthe

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Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri, is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the Savoy operas and is the seventh collaboration of the fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan.

Iolanthe (pronounced /aɪ.oʊˈlænθiː/) was first produced in London at the Savoy Theatre, on 25 November 1882, three days after Patience closed, and ran for 398 performances. It was the first of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas to premiere at the Savoy Theatre. The story concerns a band of immortal fairies who find themselves at odds with the House of Peers. The opera satirises many aspects of British government and law.

Contents

Background

The opening night of Iolanthe was an occasion for what must have seemed a truly magical event in 1882. The Savoy Theatre was the first theatre in the world to be wired for electricity, and such stunning special effects as sparkling fairy wands were possible.

Gilbert had targeted the aristocracy for satiric treatment before, but in this "fairy opera", 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. Among many potshots that Gilbert takes at lawyers in this opera, the Lord Chancellor sings that he will "work on a new and original plan" that the rule (which holds true in other professions, such as the military, the church and even the stage) that diligence, honesty, honour, and merit should lead to promotion "might apply to the bar". Throughout Iolanthe, however, both author and composer managed to couch the criticism among such bouncy, amiable absurdities that it is all received as good humour. In fact, Gilbert later refused to allow quotes from the piece to be used as part of the campaign to diminish the powers of the House of Lords.

Although titled Iolanthe all along in Gilbert's plot book[1] for a time the piece was advertised as Perola. According to an often-repeated story, Gilbert and Sullivan did not change the name to Iolanthe until just before the première: "At the final rehearsal of Iolanthe at the Savoy, Sullivan addressed the assembled company: 'Ladies and gentlemen. You have been rehearsing Perola but when the curtain goes up the opera will be called Iolanthe. Will you please change the name Perola to Iolanthe throughout.'"[2] In fact, the title was advertised as Iolanthe as early as November 13, 1882 – eleven days before the opening – so the cast had at least that much time to learn the name. It is also clear that Sullivan's musical setting was written to match the cadence of the word "Iolanthe," and could only accommodate the word "Perola" by preceding it (awkwardly) with "O", "Come" or "Ah".[3] The piece was subtitled The Peer and the Peri.

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