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Gilbert and Sullivan


Gosforth Musical Society is proud to present Iolanthe.  Preparations for this lavish production have already begun, and auditions for principal roles will be held on 12th October, but rehearsals will begin in earnest after our double bill of the Zoo and Happy Arcadian in November.  We would love to have you join us, and for more details please get in touch.

Iolanthe was the seventh collaboration between Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert and was first performed at the Savoy Theatre on 25th November 1882, and ran for 385 performances. It was the first new work to be performedat the Savoy (Patience had earlier transferred there from Opera Comique), and can thus be considered as the first true ‘Savoy Opera’ as well as being the first new theatrical production in the world to be lit by electricity. 

By the time Iolanthe was written, Gilbert and Sullivan had really hit their stride and were at the peak of their creative powers. Sullivan’s style in particular had evolved considerably since their first collaborations, and produced a particularly fine score, with even a nod to Wagner in the use of leitmotifs, whereby distinct musical themes are associated with particular characters. The Wagnerian influence was even reflected in the design of the original Fairy Queen’s ‘Brunnhilde Valkyrie’ inspired costume.

Gilbert provided one of his most whimsical and satirical librettos targeting the aristocracy and the political establishment. His earliest ideas for Iolanthe had appeared in one of his ‘Bab Ballads’, called ‘The Fairy Curate’ and it contained the theme of Fairies marrying mortals, which makes it appearance in the Opera.


Gilbert ensured that his direction provided high production values, with a lavish staging, incorporating special lighting effects that had been impossible in the era of gas stage lighting. The Band of the Grenadier Guard even appeared at the first performance heralding the March of the Peers.


Unbelievably, following the first performance, there was hostile criticism in The papers, for Gilbert for ridiculing the House of Lords, and for Sullivan for writing ‘unmelodious music’! However, critical opinion has rightly changed since then, and Iolanthe is regarded by many as a masterpiece. Indeed the extended Act One finale has been described by one commentator as one ofthe finest pieces of sustained musical theatre writing ever by a  British composer.

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