ASR Music ~~ Iolanthe: Fairies and Lords Walk the Boards

By Jeff Dunn

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Iolanthe is about two groups hidebound by rules who battle it out on stage. One group has power over the other because they’re magic, but both groups have definitely lost their marbles–just read what they sing!


Tripping hither, tripping thither,

Nobody knows why or whither;

We must dance and we must sing

Round about our fairy ring!



Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!

Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses!

Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses!

Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

Imagine the silliness of it all–female fairies having power over men, forcing their favored half-fairy male candidate to run parliament houses. Fortunately, all the men and women marry each other at the end, and 19th-century normality is restored. There are other reasons than plot to enjoy Iolanthe, mainly Gilbert’s barb-aplenty text coated by the pill of Sullivan’s inoffensive music.

Lyric Opera has put many of their marbles into their chorus, and the result is a major strength in Music Director Michael Taylor’s department. Kathleen O’Brien’s colorful fairy costumes along with Shirley Benson’s stunted light-saber wands are another plus. Larry Tom’s set designs are spare, but not inappropriate. The single forest projection in Act 1 was so gorgeous, however, it made this reviewer wish there were more of them to follow—a hope unrealized.

…”Iolanthe”, or “The Peer and the Peri”, opened at the Savoy Theatre on November 25, 1882…

I was also hopeful that the soloists’ best efforts would match the consistent delights of the chorus, but no luck. However, voices improved as the operetta progressed opening night.

Bobby Singer was a standout as Private Willis, as was Katie Francis as Queen of the Fairies. Minju Jeong’s light but lovely voice was always on pitch as Phyllis. Tenor Eric Mellum grew well into his role of Lord Tollroller. Jeffrey Lampert’s Lord Chancellor was fun to watch in his famous “headache” patter song (where his jet pace even outpaced the orchestra for a moment!)

For a title character, G&S surprisingly gave Iolanthe only one aria, but Kaelyn Howard carried it off well, with the enthusiasm characteristic of the rest of the cast.

Iolanthe is ranked highly in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon by many commentators. To me, it was a good reminder of why our American Experiment did away with titled nobility. As to the current value of what replaced it, that’s a matter for later discussion.


Jeff Dunn is ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor. A retired educator and project manager, he’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA.

His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

Stage Direction byDoreen Finkelstein
Musical Direction byMichael Taylor
Producing CompanyLyric Theatre
Production DatesThru Aug 6th
Production AddressHammer Theatre Center, 101 Paseo De San Antonio, San Jose, C 95113
Telephone(408) 986-1455
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
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