""Iolanthe" is one of the lesser-known Gilbert & Sullivan shows, at least in the United States. That is unfortunate, since it's a great deal of fun to listen to. It will probably take most people who don't know the show at least a couple of listens before they appreciate it, but it's well worth it.
The plot of "Iolanthe," like all G & S, is a bit convoluted. The fairies in England are wondering what happened to one of their own, Iolanthe. The fairy queen says she banished her to penal servitude for life for marrying a mortal (the usual sentence is death), and Iolanthe decided to serve her sentence on her head at the bottom of a stream. The queen decides to pardon Iolanthe, and she appears, telling them that she wanted to be closer to her son Strephon, who is a fairy down to the waist. Strephon is engaged to Phyllis, a ward of the Lord Chancellor. Normally, the Chancellor's consent is required to marry a ward of the court, but Strephon can defy him down to the waist. The chancellor and House of Peers enter with great fanfare, and the Lord Chancellor describes how awkward his dilemma is. He is in love with Phyllis, but does he need his own consent to marry a ward of his own court? Can he marry without his own consent? And if he marries without his own consent, can he hold himself in contempt of his own court?
When Phyllis sees Strephon kissing a seemingly young woman, she assumes the worst. But her "rival" turns out to be none other than Strephon's own mother, Iolanthe, a fairy -- fairies never grow old. But with Phyllis' guardian, the Lord Chancellor, and half the peers in the House of Lords pining over her, soon the peers and the fairies are virtually at war, and long friendships are nearly torn asunder. But all is happily sorted out, thanks to the "subtleties of the legal mind".
The songs in "Iolanthe" are delightful. My personal favorites are "Spurn Not the Nobly Born," sung by Lord Tolloler, and "When Britain Really Ruled the Waves," sung by Lord Mountararat. Tolloler pleads to Phyllis that the nobly born have an equal claim to be respected, and laments, "Blue blood! blue blood! When virtuous love is sought, Thy power is naught, Though dating from the Flood, Blue blood! Ah, blue blood!" Mountararat says that if there is ever an institution not susceptible to any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers, and sings "When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte, As every child can tell, The House of Peers, throughout the war, Did nothing in particular, and did it very well."
The cast does an outstanding job. All the greats of the old D'Oyly Carte company give great performances- Alan Styler as Strephon, Mary Sansom as Phyllis, Thomas Round as Tolloler, and of course the great comic baritone John Reed as the Lord Chancellor. Reed had a laser-like precision in his voice that was perfect for the comic baritone roles. So buy or download the album, and listen to the whole show, dialogue and music- you will enjoy it. Highly recommended."
Fun with Lords and Fairies
A Peripatetic Lad | 05/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Iolanthe was the first Gilbert & Sullivan purchase I'd ever made. I did so for my wife, not for myself. Who knew!? Yes, Gilbert & Sullivan music does indeed "sound like Gilbert & Sullivan" music; I have difficulty listening to this music without visualizing any of a number of Monty Python skits. But I had no idea that Gilbert's lyrics were so witty, nor that they were written as social commentary. Hilarious stuff. I am especially pleased that this recording includes the spoken dialogue between the songs. This really brings the music to life for me."
Iolanthe D'oly Carte with Isidore Godfrey
Michael F. Crisp | France | 01/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a good recording; both the musical and the spoken performances are very acceptable. Isidore Godfrey is one of the best conductors for Sullivan, he invariably choses the right tempi and brings out all the delightful details of Sullivan's orchestration. The Soloists are good too and even John Reed (whose mannerisms in later recordings became increasingly irritating) is on better form than usual. It seems amazing to me that to enjoy most Gibert and Sullivan operas one still has to buy recordings made in th 1950's or 60's but this one stands up well.It is also an historic record of the D'Oly Carte Company at a time before went down hill once the copyright money was lost in 1961"
The best available Iolanthe
Victor Wolfram | Walnut Creek, CA USA | 03/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Iolanthe has one of Sullivan's best scores and one of Gilbert's most amusing (and politically perceptive) librettos. I had the good fortune to see a performance of it by the D'Oyly Carte company on their final USA tour, decades ago, shortly before they went out of existence. I have not seen the current DVDs of Iolanthe, but from all reports no fully satisfactory Iolanthe DVD is now on the market. The D'Oyly Carte CD, even though it lacks the visual element, is thus the best available Iolanthe. It includes the spoken words as well as the music, and the superb dramatic and vocal D'Oyly Carte traditions are well served. Sullivan's brilliant orchestrations are expertly performed and cleanly recorded. The vocal recording is a bit further away from modern technical standards--hence my choice of 4 stars rather than 5--but still good enough for the words to be clearly understood. Now, if the Austrailian Opera company would only dump their old flawed production of Iolanthe and give us a new Iolanthe DVD as good as their Patience or Pinafore . . ."