Iolanthe at the English National Opera
One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s great successes, Iolanthe opened at the Savoy Theatre in London at the end of 1882 and ran for just under 400 performances.
The opera – a musical comedy – satirises many aspects of British law and society. It is a confrontation between the fairies and the House of Peers, with a theme of a tranquil civilisation of women being disrupted by a male dominated world through the discovery of mortal love. Plus ça change!
Even the Prime Minister at the time, Gladstone, complimented the opera’s good taste and enjoyed the splendid pageantry of the piece on the opening night.
The Director is Cal McCrystal. His directing career specialises in comedy, with his shows known for their chaotic physical comedy elements and irreverence. Iolanthe was right up his street and so it proved. He and his Designer – the dearly departed – Paul Brown, gave us a colourful set full of fruit, flowers, birds and great costumes. The whole performance was interspersed with comedy; sometimes direct, sometimes simply outrageous. From barking dogs to an audience sing along, this production had it all. If you are a G&S fan you will be delighted by this performance and will probably want to see it again with grandparents, relatives and even children.
The evening breezed along under the baton of the Conductor, Timothy Henty. However, there were one or two occasions where his control with the singers was perhaps too slow and forced and you wished him to keep the otherwise exemplary pace going.
The cast were fully in tune, vocally and physically particularly from the flying fairy of the wonderful Yvonne Howard, whose matronly performance in trying to keep the whole flock of fairies together comes undone in the end as the fairies fall in love with the peers and politicians – with a Boris Johnson lookalike included! The incredible Andrew Shore’s comedy performance as The Lord Chancellor was outstanding and it was he who allowed us all to open our vocal chords and personally enjoy the evening’s proceedings. His Lord Chancellor is a consummate performance of the highest quality, perfect for this Gilbert & Sullivan evening.
Iolanthe was the ENO Harewood Young Artist, Samantha Price. Her rich mezzo soprano voice bodes well for a great career ahead. The British cast also included the Phyllis of Ellie Laugharne, the Strephon of Marcus Farnsworth, the Earl Tolloller of Ben Johnson and the Earl of Mountararat, Ben McAteer, all singing outstandingly in their roles. Barnaby Rea’s bass voice boomed out for Private Willis, but the unsung hero was of course the performance of the Lord Chancellor’s page boy, Richard Leeming, whose comedy touches throughout brought tears to the eyes.
Nobody does Gilbert & Sullivan better than ENO. This is vocally and visually a heartening opera to see and will only get better as all the comedy is honed more tightly as the run proceeds.