An introduction to Iolanthe

Here’s everything you need to know about ENO’s production of Iolanthe.

It’s a satirical fantasy by Gilbert & Sullivan

Iolanthe is one of librettist W.S Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan’s many comic operas. The Victorian duo were brought together in 1875 by theatre manager Richard D’Oyly Carte, whose Savoy Theatre was established as a showcase for their works. Gilbert and Sullivan are perhaps best known for their operetta’s, The Pirates of Penzance (1879) and The Mikado (1885).

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado is on at the London Coliseum from 28 Oct – 30 Nov 2019.

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Based on W.S. Gilbert’s Bab Ballard, ‘The Fairy Curate’, Iolanthe is set 25 years after fairy Iolanthe committed the ultimate crime: marrying a mortal. Her half-human, half-fairy son now wishes to marry a mortal–a crime punishable by death–leaving Iolanthe and her fairy friends no choice to but to challenge the law. It is a comedy – we promise! Have a read of the full synopsis.

The opera had an entirely different name just a few days before its premiere

Before its opening at the Savoy on the 25 November 1882, Iolanthe was known as Perola, although Gilbert ensured his production got the name he preferred in the end. The opening night itself was a success with the audience, even though they spent more time reading the libretto than watching the actual production. This was due the fact that, for the first time ever, the production was powered entirely by electricity, which illuminated the auditorium more than gas ever could, so audiences could actually see the libretto well enough to read it!

Props from the original production coined a term we all use today

The principal fairies in the opening performance all wore incandescent star lights in their hair. The battery-powered dazzling lights, were made by the Swan United Electric Light Company, which was founded by Joseph Swan. The term ‘fairy lights’ has been used ever since.

Our production is directed by an award-winning comedy director

Cal McCrystal makes his ENO directorial debut with this production of Iolanthe. He is perhaps best known for his work on One Man, Two Guvnors and Paddington 2.

If you loved Iolanthe, you might love this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta...