About this Recording
8.110231-32 - SULLIVAN: Iolanthe (D'Oyly Carte) (1951)
English 

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

Iolanthe (or The Peer and the Peri)

 

“…Nothing, I thought, could have been happier than the manner in which the comic strain of the piece was blended with its harmonies of sight and sound, so good in taste from beginning to end.”

 

(Gladstone’s letter to Sullivan, December 1882)

 

Although a noted amateur of literary genius, the political satire in Iolanthe may have eluded Queen Victoria’s Prime Minister. After already parodying holders of high office - the navy (in Pinafore and Pirates), the Aesthetic Movement (in Patience) and jurisprudence (in Trial By Jury)- in Gilbert’s ingenious new libretto Sullivan had found another sure vehicle for caricature of the British peerage, not least Captain Shaw, the Chief of the London Fire Brigade. Continuing the popular ‘fairy’ genre he had already exploited in such pre-Sullivan farces and burlesques as The Palace of Truth (1870), The Happy Land (1873) and Fogerty’s Fairy (1881), Gilbert transferred the House of Lords to fairyland. The result, a new kind of féerie opera made more atmospheric by the new innovation of electric light. Iolanthe was the first G&S work to be staged in D’Oyly Carte’s newly-built Savoy Theatre, on 25th November 1882, under the composer’s baton) where it ran for 398 performances. Opened on the same night on Broadway under the conductor Alfred Cellier, over the years it enjoyed various successful resurrections and would remain a favourite with New York audiences (notably in 1926 with 355 performances) as well as in Australia and other British colonies. At Sadler’s Wells, in 1962, it was the first Savoy work to be awarded a large-scale London production and in 1987 was the opera chosen to launch the revamped D’Oyly Carte Opera Co. One of the most musically integrated and fluent of the Savoy opera scores, in its use and development of recurring musical themes Iolanthe is, as Arthur Jacobs observed “…the work in which Sullivan’s operetta style takes a definite step forward”.

 

Ann Drummond-Grant

 

The wife of D’Oyly Carte conductor Isidore Godfrey and a stalwart in G&S contralto rôles, Ann Drummond Grant (1904-1959) began her career as a soprano in opera, both amateur and professional, prior to joining the D’Oyly Carte chorus in 1933. A member of the company for five years, during 1938 her rôles included Patience, The Plaintiff (in Trial By Jury), Josephine (in Pinafore), Aline (in The Sorcerer), Fiametta (in Gondoliers) and Elsie (in Yeomen) and Celia and Phyllis in Iolanthe. Later, she branched into operetta (appearing notably in Waltzes From Vienna) and also sang in summer seasons but in 1950 she returned to D’Oyly Carte, where she assumed the leading contralto repertoire previously sung by Ella Halman.

 

 

Martyn Green

 

Born William Martyn-Green in London, Martyn Green (1899-1975) studied singing first with his father, the distinguished English tenor William Green, and later with Gustave García (1837-1925) at the Royal College of Music. After active service during the First World War, he gained his first stage experience in 1919, in musical comedy on Daly’s Theatre circuit. Green joined the D’Oyly Carte as a chorister and understudy in 1922 and his solo début, as Luiz in Gondoliers, was followed by other comic leads including John Wellington Wells (in The Sorcerer), Major Murgatroyd (in Patience), the Major-General (in Pirates), The Associate (in Trial By Jury) and The Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe. His masterly portrayal of Ko-Ko The Lord High Executioner in The Mikado is preserved in the 1939 Technicolor screen adaptation by Geoffrey Toye and in the 1950 Decca studio recording (Naxos 8.110176-77). After service in the RAF during the Second World War, he returned in 1946 to D’Oyly Carte to sing comic leads until 1951. Thereafter, he toured the United States, performing and directing as well as lecturing on the Savoy Operas. Martyn Green appeared on American TV (his was the voice of the fox in the cartoon Pinocchio) and on Broadway as Chaucer in the Richard Hill-John Hawkins musical Canterbury Tales. He died in Hollywood, California.

 

 

Leonard Osborn

 

At first an amateur singer in his native London, Leonard Osborn worked as a chemist in a silk-printing mill before joining the professional chorus of D’Oyly Carte in the mid-1930s. After his début in a small part in Yeomen in 1937, he had by 1939 sung the defendant (in Trial By Jury), Francesco (in Gondoliers) and Leonard Merrill (in Yeomen). An RAF flight-lieutenant during the second World War, in 1946 Osborn returned to D’Oyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1959, his many rôles included the Duke of Dunstable (in Patience), Fairfax (in Yeomen), Ralph (in Pinafore), Frederick (in Pirates), Marco in Gondoliers and Earl Tolloller in Iolanthe.

 

 

Eric Thornton

 

Eric Thornton joined D’Oyly Carte in 1950. During his first season with the company he played Bouncer (in Cox And Box), the Learned Judge (in Trial By Jury), Captain Corcoran (in Pinafore), Luiz (in Gondoliers) and Lord Mountararat in Iolanthe. The following year he sang the Pirate King and Sir Roderic (in Ruddigore) and from 1952 onwards worked with touring G&S companies in Australia.

 

 

Fisher Morgan

 

Fisher Morgan joined D’Oyly Carte in 1950 and remained a member of the company until 1956. His rôles included Bouncer (in Cox And Box), the Learned Judge (in Trial By Jury), the Sergeant (in Pirates), Don Alhambra (in Gondoliers), Pooh-Bah (in Mikado), King Hildebrand (in Princess Ida), Sir Despard (in Ruddigore) and Private Willis in Iolanthe. Fisher Morgan died in January 1959.

 

 

Alan Styler

 

Alan Styler was born in Redditch in Worcestershire. A keen semi-professional baritone in his youth, at seventeen he was a Grenadier Guard and served in the British Army during the Second World War. In 1947 he joined the D’Oyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1968, he sang a variety of principal rôles, including Captain Corcoran (in Pinafore), Samuel (in Pirates), the Lieutenant (in Yeomen) and Strephon in Iolanthe.

 

 

Ella Halman

 

After joining the D’Oyly Carte Chorus in 1937, Ella Halman remained with the company until 1951, singing a variety of rôles, including Lady Jane (in Patience), Katisha (in Mikado), Ruth (in Pirates), the Duchess (in Gondoliers) and the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe.

 

 

Margaret Mitchell

 

Margaret Mitchell joined the D’Oyly Carte chorus in 1943 and played her first principal rôle, the fairy Fleta in Iolanthe the following year. Her G&S repertoire included Patience, Edith (in Pirates), Ella (in Patience), Yum-Yum (in Mikado), Kate (in Yeomen), Casilda (in Gondoliers), Rose Maybud (in Ruddigore) and Phyllis in Iolanthe.

 

Peter Dempsey

 

Synopsis

 

CD 1

 

Act 1

 

After the Overture [1] the curtain rises on an idyllic Arcadian setting. The fairies, led by Leila, Celia and Fleta, sing as they dance about the rustic bridge that crosses the stream [2]. They recount how, 25 years previously, Iolanthe was banished by the Fairy Queen to the bed of the stream for having married a mortal. The Fairy Queen now enters and, yielding to the Fairies’ intercession, pardons Iolanthe and crowns her once more a fairy [3]. Iolanthe reveals that she has a son, Strephon, a shepherd in love with Phyllis, a pretty shepherdess and a Ward-in-Chancery of the Lord Chancellor. At this, Strephon waltzes in, playing his flageolet (here, the oft-repeated ‘Good Morrow’ theme first appears) [4]. He informs the Queen of the Lord Chancellor’s refusal to permit him to marry Phyllis, adding that they intend to marry regardless. He complains that being a half-fairy does not really suit him and, taking his leave, confesses that while his brain is a fairy brain, from the waist downwards he is ‘a gibbering idiot’, which, the Queen suggests, might qualify him for membership of Parliament! [5]. Phyllis makes her entrance; dancing to the accompaniment of her flageolet, she greets Strephon on what she hopes will be their wedding day – several of the Peers are also hopeful of her hand [6]. The couple swear eternal allegiance and depart together [7]. Amid pomp and ceremony the Peers enter, accompanied by the Band of Guards [8]. The Lord Chancellor enters with his train-bearer and laments the disadvantages of fostering Wards-in-Chancery [9]. The Peers are eager to know which of them shall marry Phyllis, but the question is further complicated by the Lord Chancellor’s confession that he too is smitten by her. Phyllis herself is summoned to appear before them [10]. The Lords Tolloller and Mountararat variously pay her homage, but Phyllis, to their horror, informs them of her betrothal to Strephon [11] who now strives to persuade the Lord Chancellor that his own love for Phyllis is due to overwhelming forces of Nature. The Lord Chancellor, still unimpressed of the shepherd’s eligibility, vents his doubts in a song [12] then departs. Iolanthe enters and Strephon tells her of the Lord Chancellor’s opposition to his marriage to Phyllis. Comforting him, Iolanthe vows to bring their case to the Fairy Queen herself. In the meantime the Peers have returned with Phyllis who, seeing Strephon in Iolanthe’s embrace, and not knowing she is his mother, mistakenly suspects him of infidelity. Phyllis confronts Strephon and a general confusion ensues – the Peers do not see ‘How so young a girl as Iolanthe could be the mother of a man of five-and-twenty!’ Strephon pleads his case but an unconvinced Phyllis, simultaneously addressing Mountararat and Tolloller, vows to marry one of the Peers instead. Strephon reappears and summons the fairies to help him. The Queen vainly attempts to reassure the Peers that Iolanthe is Strephon’s mother, not his lover. As a punishment she decrees that Strephon shall shed his pastoral status and enter ‘the Parliamentary hive’ where he will have power to pass whatever bills he pleases. Genuflecting, the Peers beg for mercy, as the fairies threaten them with their wands [13].

CD 2

 

Act 2

 

The scene is the Palace Yard, Westminster. On sentry duty, Grenadier Guard Private Willis soliloquises on political polarity [1]. The fairies, led by Celia, Leila and Fleta enter and sing jubilantly at Strephon’s election to Parliament, followed by the Peers, from Westminster Hall, who are less than jubilant [2]. Mountararat, angered by Strephon’s introduction of a bill to subject the Peerage to greater scrutiny, pleads the case for the House of Lords [3]. Although impressed by the attire of the Peers, and flattered by their attentions, Leila and Celia insist that their pomp will not influence Strephon [4]. The Peers depart and the Queen of the Fairies enters. She chides the fairies for admiring them, although she admits she is herself attracted by Private Willis (whom she apostrophizes as ‘Captain Shaw’) [5]. She departs with her retinue and Phyllis enters, dejected despite the fact that she is currently simultaneously “engaged” to the Lords Mountararat and Tolloller, who now arrive to assert their claims to her hand. To settle the matter a duel is suggested but is soon overruled by the ties of friendship. Willis joins them in a quartet [6]. As they exit, the downhearted Lord Chancellor enters and sings of the unrequited love which robs him of his rest and gives him nightmares [7]. Exhausted, he slumps into a chair. Mountararat and Tolloller return and the Lord Chancellor tells them of how he made his own application, via his own official office, to marry his own Ward – but refused, again in his official capacity to accept it. In a trio, their Lordships urge him to make another application, which might prove successful [8] and all three dance out, arm in arm. Dispirited, Strephon enters and attempts to repair the rift with Phyllis. She accepts that Iolanthe is his mother and the couple resolve to marry at once [9]. Iolanthe enters and, giving them her blessing, reveals that Strephon’s father is none other than the Lord Chancellor himself. Phyllis and Strephon take their leave and as the Lord Chancellor enters, Iolanthe withdraws and shrouds her face in a veil. In an aside to the audience, his Lordship announces that, as his further official application to himself has been accepted, he is now engaged to Phyllis. Iolanthe comes forwards and pleads on behalf of Strephon [10], but the Lord Chancellor insists that he is himself engaged to Phyllis until he discovers that Iolanthe is his wife. The Queen of the Fairies enters, ordering Iolanthe’s death for breaking fairy laws, but the other fairies protest that in that case they all must die, for they too have married into the Peerage. At this the Lord Chancellor suggests, in a stroke of genius, that the law be changed to read: ‘Every fairy shall die who doesn’t marry a mortal.’ To this the Queen consents and takes the hand of Private Willis, who is instantly transmogrified –into a fairy [11]. Not wishing to be left out Mountararat and Tolloller follow suit and as wings sprout from their shoulders the Peers all join with the fairies in a joyful chorus [12].

 

Peter Dempsey


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