Iolanthe is one of fourteen Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas that the pair wrote in the late 19th century. Gilbert wrote the words, and created the fanciful, upside-down, absurd worlds that create the, often satirical, comedy of the story, and Sullivan composed the music, with memorable memories that reinforce the humour.
The Actors Studio Chorus and Orchestra, under the direction of Martin Rutherford, has already given highly successful concert versions of three of the most popular comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan in recent years – “The Mikado”, “HMS Pinafore” and “The Pirates of Penzance”. This year, it is the turn of another Gilbert & Sullivan favourite, Iolanthe. As in previous years, the chorus for “Iolanthe” includes 50 to 60 singers and the orchestra numbers 25 players, and all the solo parts will be sung by particularly talented members of the chorus.
In this opera, the UK’s House of Lords is portrayed as a place of ineffective, privileged and dim-witted men, whose only qualification to govern is noble birth. The political party system, the law and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire. But it is all wrapped up in absurdity, farce and fairyland, making it tremendous fun to both perform and to watch.
Iolanthe herself is a fairy who has been banished from the fairy kingdom because she married a mortal. Twenty-five years later, when she is allowed to return, Iolanthe reveals that she has a son, Strephon, who is a fairy down to the waist but has mortal legs. Strephon has fallen in love with Phyllis, who is a ward of the Lord Chancellor (a senior UK government official). The other members of the House of Lords (the Peers) think Strephon is being unfaithful to Phyllis because they see him with his mother, Iolanthe, who as a fairy, of course, never gets old. As punishment, the fairies make Strephon a member of Parliament, magically able to pass any bill he wants. In the meantime, the fairies all fall in love with the Peers, and the Fairy Queen finds herself with a political and moral mess on her hands. In true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, the tangled plot unravels and all ends well.
Iolanthe will be staged on 20 and 21 September at 8:30pm at penangpac, Straits Quay. Ticket prices are RM 40 for adults and RM 30 for concessions. They can be purchased online here, or at the penangpac box office.