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Sunday, August 28, 2011

IOLANTHE (1982)

Just as the D’Oyly Carte Opera was closing down after purveying all things Gilbert & Sullivan for 107 years, PBS/BBC began taping most of the famous comic operettas, largely without D’Oyly Carte participation. Bit of a missed opportunity, what? Worse, most of the shows used stunt celebrity casting in a major role (Vincent Price, Joel Grey, etc.) and cuts were made to fit time slots. Not the case with this IOLANTHE. As a production, it’s useful rather than inspired, but it gets enough across to show this series at it’s most valuable. Iolanthe is a beautiful fairy who drifted from her set and had a child with a mortal. Not just any mortal, mind you, but the Lord Chancellor! Now, her grown son has fallen in love with the Chancellor’s young ward, a sweet thing so lovely that all the Members of Parliament want to marry her . . . even the Lord Chancellor. Worse, Iolanthe’s son is ashamed to tell the girl that he’s ‘half a fairy!’ (That is, fairy from the waist up, mortal from the waist down. Thank goodness!) The show is everything you’d want from a G&S classic: tuneful, hilarious, tongue-twisting, cock-eyed patriotic, and terribly topsy-turvy. Some of the comic numbers race by too fast to make their mark, but most of the singing is very good, as is the orchestra & chorus. (The conductor, Alexander Faris, was a D’Oyly Carte holdover.) The production indulges in a bit of technical hocus-pocus which now looks dated, but then the original production in 1882 was technically famous for its use of electricity instead of gas. The fairies even wore electrified tiaras at the finale. Just try not to grin as the House of Lords march about singing: ‘Bow, bow ye tradesmen, bow ye masses; Bow, bow, ye lower middle-classes.’ NOTE: Our poster is from the original LP recording of 1951 which features an incomparable perf of The Nightmare Song by the great Martyn Green. It's on various free web sites and worth a few clicks to find.

CONTEST: A current Supreme Court Justice quoted from IOLANTHE at a press conference after being nominated. Name the Judge, the G&S character referenced & the gist of the quote to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice.

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