Opera Scotland

Iolanthe or The Peer and the Peri

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)

William S Gilbert.


First performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 25 November 1882.
First UK performance: As above.
First performance in Scotland: To be confirmed. (Probably 1883)
Scottish Opera premiere: 21 October 1986.

Iolanthe was the first Gilbert and Sullivan piece to have its premiere at the Savoy Theatre. It is one of the most consistently well-plotted and composed examples of their output, and was an instant success. In spite of the idiocy of the contrasting worlds of fairydom and the House of Lords, a surprising amount of drama and genuine pathos is generated. Sullivan contrasts Mendelssohnian fairy-music with a grander style with a real swagger for the peers. The Lord Chancellor is a three-dimensional character rather than simply a patter-merchant, and Iolanthe’s music is deeply serious.

Main Characters
Queen of the Fairies (contralto)
Iolanthe, a fairy (mezzo-soprano)
Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, Iolanthe’s son (baritone)
Phyllis, an Arcadian shepherdess and Ward in Chancery (soprano)
Earl of Mountararat (bass)
Earl Tolloller (tenor)
The Lord Chancellor (baritone)
Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards (bass)

Plot Summary
The first act begins with the fairies complaining that life is dull without Iolanthe, even though it is twenty-five years since she was banished for marrying a mortal. The Queen reprieves her, and Iolanthe introduces them to her son Strephon, only half a fairy. He loves, and is loved by Phyllis, a shepherdess, but she is a ward of court and all the peers love her, as does the Lord Chancellor. Phyllis mistakes Iolanthe, who still looks young and beautiful, for a rival for Strephon’s affections, and agrees to marry a peer, though she doesn’t care which. The Queen carries out her plan of revenge on the Lord Chancellor by making Strephon an MP representing one of her pocket boroughs, and bringing in reforms that cause chaos.

In the second act, the Lord Chancellor is suffering nightmares because of his love for Phyllis. Her patched-up engagement to Strephon is in danger again, and the only solution is for Iolanthe to reveal the truth, that she is the Lord Chancellor’s wife and Strephon is their son. All is resolved happily by changing the rules so that all the fairies are required to marry mortals.

The Cast

 a Fairy
Earl of Mountararat
Earl Tolloller
 a Fairy
 a Fairy, Strephon's Mother
 a Fairy
Lord Chancellor
 an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery
Private Willis
 B Company, 1st Grenadier Guards
Queen of the Fairies
 an Arcadian Shepherd

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