Date: June 12 2012
First performed at the London Savoy Theatre on November 25, 1882, as an ''entirely new and original fairy opera'', Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe remains an effervescent, witty satire on the English institution of the House of Lords.
The Queanbeyan Players' version of Iolanthe was true to the spirit of the original script, inserting entertaining allusions to the pretensions and foibles of contemporary Australian political parties.
Elora Ledger's mature acting and confident singing helped her to shine as a memorable Iolanthe. Her character is the vehicle through which redemption is achieved for herself and her husband, and it is the force that ultimately reconciles the lovers at the centre of the story. Gilbert's script manipulates the ever-appealing power of magic to transform conflict into celebration.
Opening night is always a testing event for a production as elaborate as this one, and there were some moments when the orchestra and singers were not quite in sync, but the energy of the cast and the drive of musical director, Jennifer Groom, kept the production humming. Minor wrinkles will disappear.
Our hero, Strephon, played by Gerard Ninnes, made good use of his interesting condition - ''fairy from the head to the waist and human below'', to build his character. He and Madeleine Rowland as Phyllis performed their duets, Good Morrow, Good Lover and None Shall Part Us with warmth and nicely blended voices. In her role as Fairy Queen, Janene Broere kept the right balance between gravity and susceptibility to animate this comic character, with pleasing vocal solos. She and Iolanthe were well supported by the impressive vocal strength of the fairy trio.
Greg Wallace and Peter Smith as the two Lords vying for Phyllis's reluctant hand almost stole the show. Their rich voices strengthened, as did their self assurance as they relaxed and exploited the opportunities for comic interaction. The Lord Chancellor is a prized role and Matt Greenwood enjoyed himself enormously, making the most of his singing opportunities. I thought he could perhaps be more responsive with his movements while listening to Iolanthe making her confession. In a delightful cameo as Private Willis, Chris McNee was wooed by the Fairy Queen while struggling to maintain his detached military manliness.
From the depths of the pit, the orchestra did a sterling job with the devilishly tricky score. There is nothing simplistic about Sullivan's orchestral writing, despite the apparent spontaneity and levity of the mood.
This is a production that shouldn't be missed. Beneath the frothy layers of floating fairy drapery and a seemingly farcical plot, lies a discerning commentary on the social hypocrisy of the late 19th century and home truths about appearance and reality that are as relevant today as they were when Iolanthe was first seen on that winter evening 130 years ago.
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