Iolanthe Brings Back the Pomp of 1882 London
In their 48th season, the Valley Light Opera is a legendary pillar of Pioneer Valley Theater. Yet, I’d never seen one of their productions in all of my years living in the Valley. So I was pleased tonight to finally make the acquaintance of the Grand Dame, at the suitably elegant Academy of Music.
Tonight’s show, Iolanthe, by Gilbert and Sullivan, brought out the big guns, including a crisp, sharp 13-piece orchestra directed by Aldo Fabrizi. This show was one of the perennial favorites of the founders of the troupe Bill and Sally Venman 48 seasons ago, and it’s been produced by VLO five previous times starting in 1976.
The plot was complex as to be expected, but the musical numbers were lively and fun and that big orchestra really filled the hall with the rousing military themed score. The simple synopsis is that the title character Iolanthe, a fairy, marries a mortal, and 25 years later she wants to let her half fairy/half mortal son Strephon, a simple shepard marry Phyllis. But she has to convince the Lord Chancellor to change the laws.
Pictured above are the ‘peers’ better known as lords, who ruled one house of Parliament in England. These civil servants, all with noble titles such as duke, earl and baron, looking regal in their ermine cloaks and bejeweled crowns, would soon meet up with the powerful fairies, who mingle and mix with the mortals, despite being warned not to. Marrying a mortal, even one of these rich dudes, is a capital offense. Unless of course, there is an easy fix, which is a hallmark of G&S, and in this case it’s just two words. Change it from can’t marry to must marry and voila! problem solved, for both fairies and the old men who want to marry them.
The thing about a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is that you need to read up on the plot in the program, because you can’t count on understanding Gilbert’s lush and complex lyrics. I try to go into a play without knowing that much, I like being surprised, but it didn’t take long for me to be lost among dozen or so of these crown-wearing dukes, earls and barons belting out tunes. I mean, talk about lyrics! Here is a famous tune sung at the end of the production by the Lord Chancellor, (Thom Griffin) who can’t sleep because of unrequited love (don’t you hate that?)
“You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor, and you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins, and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep, and you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your lung and a feverish tongue and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense that you haven’t been sleeping in clover…”
I kept imagining what memorizing such a complex set of song lyrics would entail, and it was just one of three songs that the Lord Chancellor sang, and one of the best.
Another very strong singer was Phylllis (Elaine Crane) whose pipes were evident when she sang her song “Good Morrow, Good Mother” with Strephon, (Brad Amidon). Some of the singers able to better project the clever and complex lyrics more than others, which is why she and Lord Tolloller, (Charlie Berrios) really stood out.
Another aspect of the lush show was the costumes….perfectly 1882, and the hair styling, too, captured the era of lords, fairies and Victorian England. Kudos to Costume c0-designers Laura Green and Phyllis Jordan.
Iolanthe, Valley Light Opera: Friday, November 3, 2023 at 7:30 pm through Sunday, November 12, 2023 at 2:00 pm, tickets