The opening night of Iolanthe was an occasion for what must have seemed a truly magical event in 1882. The Savoy Theatre was the first theatre in the world to be wired for electricity, and such stunning special effects as sparkling fairy wands were possible.
Gilbert had targeted the aristocracy for satiric treatment before, but in this "fairy opera", the House of Lords is lampooned as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted. The political party system and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire. Among many potshots that Gilbert takes at lawyers in this opera, the Lord Chancellor sings that he will "work on a new and original plan" that the rule (which holds true in other professions, such as the military, the church and even the stage) that diligence, honesty, honour, and merit should lead to promotion "might apply to the bar". Throughout Iolanthe, however, both author and composer managed to couch the criticism among such bouncy, amiable absurdities that it is all received as good humour. In fact, Gilbert later refused to allow quotes from the piece to be used as part of the campaign to diminish the powers of the House of Lords.
Although titled Iolanthe all along in Gilbert's plot book, for a time the piece was advertised as Perola and rehearsed under that name. According to an often-repeated fiction, Gilbert and Sullivan did not change the name to Iolanthe until just before the première. In fact, the title was advertised as Iolanthe as early as 13 November 1882 – eleven days before the opening – so the cast had at least that much time to learn the name. It is also clear that Sullivan's musical setting was written to match the cadence of the word "Iolanthe," and could only accommodate the word "Perola" by preceding it (awkwardly) with "O", "Come" or "Ah".
A glittering crowd attended the first night in London, including Captain (later Captain Sir) Eyre Massey Shaw, head of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, whom the Fairy Queen apostrophizes in the second act ("Oh, Captain Shaw/Type of true love kept under/Could thy brigade with cold cascade/Quench my great love, I wonder?"). On the first night, Alice Barnett as the Fairy Queen sang the verses directly to the Captain, to the great delight of the audience.
• 1. "Tripping hither, tripping thither" (Celia, Leila, and Chorus of Fairies)
• 2. "Iolanthe! From thy dark exile thou art summoned" (Queen, Iolanthe, Celia, Leila, and Chorus of Fairies)
• 3. "Good-morrow, good mother" (Strephon and Chorus of Fairies)
• 4. "Fare thee well, attractive stranger" (Queen and Chorus of Fairies)
• 4a. "Good-morrow, good lover" (Phyllis and Strephon)
• 5. "None shall part us from each other" (Phyllis and Strephon)
• 6. "Loudly let the trumpet bray" (Chorus of Peers)
• 7. "The law is the true embodiment" (Lord Chancellor and Chorus of Peers)
• 8. "My well-loved Lord" and Barcarole, "Of all the young ladies I know" (Phyllis, Lord Tolloller, and Lord Mountararat)
• 9. "Nay, tempt me not" (Phyllis)
• 10. "Spurn not the nobly born" (Lord Tolloller and Chorus of Peers)
• 11. "My lords, it may not be" (Phyllis, Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, Strephon, Lord Chancellor, and Chorus of Peers)
• 12. "When I went to the Bar" (Lord Chancellor)
• 13. Finale Act I (Ensemble)
o "When darkly looms the day"
o "The lady of my love has caught me talking to another"
o "Go away, madam"
o "Henceforth Strephon, cast away"
o "With Strephon for your foe, no doubt / Young Strephon is the kind of lout"
• 14. "When all night long a chap remains" (Private Willis)
• 15. "Strephon's a member of Parliament" (Chorus of Fairies and Peers)
• 16. "When Britain really ruled the waves" (Lord Mountararat and Chorus)
• 17. "In vain to us you plead" (Leila, Celia, Chorus of Fairies, Mountararat, Tolloller, and Chorus of Peers)
• 18. "Oh, foolish fay" (Queen with Chorus of Fairies)
• 19. "Though p'r'aps I may incur thy blame" (Phyllis, Lord Mountararat, Lord Tolloller, and Private Willis)
• 20. "Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest" ... "When you're lying awake" (Lord Chancellor)
• 21. "If you go in you're sure to win" (Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, and Lord Chancellor)
• 22. "If we're weak enough to tarry" (Phyllis and Strephon)
• 23. "My lord, a suppliant at your feet" (Iolanthe)
• 24. "It may not be" (Lord Chancellor, Iolanthe, and Chorus of Fairies)
• 25. "Soon as we may, off and away" (Ensemble)
The Lord Chancellor (comic baritone)
George, Earl of Mountararat (baritone)
Thomas, Earl Tolloller (tenor)
Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards (bass)
Strephon, an Arcadian Shepherd (baritone)
Queen of the Fairies (contralto)
Iolanthe, a Fairy, Strephon's mother (mezzo-soprano)
Celia, a Fairy (soprano)
Leila, a Fairy (mezzo-soprano)
Fleta, a Fairy (speaking role/chorus)
Phyllis, an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery (soprano)
Chorus of Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts, Barons and Fairies
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Copyright 20XX.Company Inc. All Rights Reserved.