Tomorrow through Sunday, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society will be performing the comic opera “Iolanthe.”

Paul Wong
I propose that we ratify the Bill of Rights then kiss the magical fairy godmother. (Courtesy of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society)

Iolanthe is a fairy who committed the capital crime of marrying a mortal, resulting in her banishment from the fairy kingdom. The opera opens with the Queen of the Fairies relenting on her punishment and agreeing to allow Iolanthe and her half-mortal son Strephon back into the kingdom. Strephon has plans to marry Phyllis, a shepherdess who is the Ward in Chancery, but Phyllis’ guardian, the Lord Chancellor, forbids the marriage. This is complicated by the fact that every member of Parliament is also vying for Phyllis’ hand in marriage. The Queen of the Fairies is moved by Strephon’s plight and sets about to place Strephon into Parliament.

The plot thickens when Iolanthe attempts to defend her son to the Parliament. Iolanthe appears 17, because fairies do not age as people do, yet Phyllis believes that Strephon has been unfaithful to her. This all sets up the plot of an involved conclusion in Act II.

“Iolanthe” was first produced in London in 1884. Arthur Seymour Sullivan composed the music to the opera, while William Schwenck Gilbert wrote the libretto. Theirs was a partnership spanning 25 years, in which 15 comic operas were produced. The operas of Gilbert and Sullivan seem to inhabit a unique genre all their own: The dialogue between the characters has the wit of a straight play, yet the music furthers the action, as in an opera. It is the blending of these two art forms that have helped the works of Gilbert and Sullivan to maintain their popularity throughout the years.

A student and fan of Gilbert and Sullivan began the University’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society in 1947. It is the oldest student run Gilbert and Sullivan Society in the country and is world-renowned. The society puts on at least two shows a year, constantly cycling through the 14 comic operas. The society decides which shows to put on what year and they set about filling the different positions for the show, including director.

“One thing different about the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, as opposed to other groups, is the respect that the society has for all parts of the production,” said Emily Cornelius, the director of “Iolanthe.” “Everyone is treated as an equal here, whether you’re the director, on stage, or making a costume – they really take care of us.”

“Iolanthe” is an opera filled with the fantastic, and Cornelius intends to enhance this with the set and staging of the opera. The staging will be movement oriented, even during the dialogue. “We will be producing a huge spectacle in a small space,” explained Cornelius. “I want the show to have all the busy excitement of a mall at Christmas time.”

The musical numbers are all choreographed, complete with the fairies flitting around in a mix of modern and ballet dance movements. Cornelius also wanted to visually demonstrate the more fantastical elements of the show, using costumes, props and lights that play each other to help create a more magical feel.

The musical numbers are under the direction of Chi Chung Ho. The cast, together with a 28-piece orchestra consisting of recruited music school students, promises to make “Iolanthe” a feast for the ears, as well as the eyes.

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