Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842–1900) Iolanthe (1882)
John Reed – Lord Chancellor; John Ayldon – Earl of Mountararat; Malcolm Williams – Earl Tolloller; Kenneth Sandford – Private Willis; Michael Rayner – Strephon; Lyndsie Holland – Oueen of the Fairies; Judi Merri – Iolanthe; Marjorie Williams – Celia; Patricia Leonard – Leila; Rosalind Griffiths – Fleta; Pamela Field – Phyllis
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
rec. 28 January–1 February 1974, Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London DECCA ELOQUENCE 482 0512 [70:51 + 47:22]
Iolanthe was the seventh of the fourteen light operas that Arthur
Sullivan and his librettist W. S. Gilbert created between 1875 and 1896. It
was premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 25 November 1882. It was the first
work to be premiered at the newly-built house and it was the first new
theatre production in the world to be illuminated entirely with electric
lights. A success, it ran for 398 performances. It also opened in New York
simultaneously. It is unusual insofar as it deals with both human beings and
fairies. Wikipedia’s summary of the plot is brief and to a T.
‘The fairy Iolanthe has been banished from fairyland because she married a mortal; this is forbidden by fairy law. Her son, Strephon, is an Arcadian shepherd who wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. All the members of the House of Peers also want to marry Phyllis. When Phyllis sees Strephon hugging a young woman (not knowing that it is his mother – immortal fairies all appear young), she assumes the worst and sets off a climactic confrontation between the peers and the fairies. The opera satirises many aspects of British government, law and society. The confrontation between the fairies and the peers is a version of one of Gilbert's favourite themes: a tranquil civilisation of women is disrupted by a male-dominated world through the discovery of mortal love.’
On this theme Gilbert spins a long and complicated story, seasoned with his usual acrid satire. It's a bit long-winded but highly entertaining. The score is presented complete with unabridged spoken dialogue. A special asset is the employment of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, whose playing surpasses what one is used to hearing from a traditional theatre orchestra. Sumptuous recorded sound contributes to the overall effect and the cast comprises the regulars of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, who had played their roles numerous times and knew them inside out. Thus the singing and acting is on a level that can hardly be bettered, if authentic Savoy feeling is what one wants. It would be unfair to mention some of the artists before the others, but there are two names here with a special status in D’Oyly Carte circles, two long-lasting gentlemen: John Reed and Kenneth Sandford.
John Reed (1916 – 2010) joined the company in 1951 and sang in the chorus. He had small roles but from 1959 took over as the lead comedian and remained in that position until 1979. He went on performing even after that and I had the great fortune to hear him as Sir Joseph Porter in a semi-staged performance of HMS Pinafore at the Barbican in the late 1980s. His reading of the Lord Chancellor is masterly and he savours every nuance of it, not least his inimitable delivery of the spoken dialogue.
Kenneth Sandford (1924 – 2004) joined the company in 1957 and took on from the beginning most of the leading baritone roles. He remained for 25 years, ending on the company’s last night on 27 February 1982. Private Willis in Iolanthe is a small role but he encompasses it with deep involvement.
Anyone needing a recording of Iolanthe need look no further than this.