Iolanthe @ Moyse Hall
I think we can all agree that Gilbert and Sullivan operas belong to that select group of things – encompassing maple syrup and bubble wrap – that were put on this earth to make people happy, no strings attached. I mean, Iolanthe in particular is a story centering on fairies and the British Parliament. How is that not going to be satirical and delightful? The prospect of checking out this McGill Savoy Society production should be appealing without any help on my part. All of that said, this really is an accomplished production, and it really is worth checking out.
To get down to brass tacks for a moment, Iolanthe is more properly the story of Iolanthe’s son, Strephon. Half fairy on his mother’s side, but otherwise mortal, he’s very much in love with a fellow rustic, Phyllis. However, he must compete with some suitors – all of which are members of Parliament – to win the heart of his ladylove. Meanwhile, the fairy kingdom decides to bring Iolanthe back into their fold (they banished her for marrying a mortal, tut-tut), and they unwittingly get drawn into the whole situation when a misunderstanding forces Strephon and Phyllis apart.
It’s good old-fashioned topsy-turvy Gilbert and Sullivan stuff, and Thursday night’s cast carried it off with charm and grace as they trotted the story to its conclusion. There are in fact two casts to this production, so the majority of the ensemble varies from night to night; some highlights from Thursday’s performance were Mike Sornberger as the Lord Chancellor (he’s got a gorgeous baritone voice and dance steps that hint toward some fairy heritage of his own), and Grace Wiebe’s flirty but headstrong Phyllis.
As for the non-changing roles, Claire Rollans’ Queen of the Fairies and Margaret Frainier’s Iolanthe are both fantastic. Rollans makes for a wonderful, stately Queen, carefully undermining the dignity of the character with fantastical gestures and all kinds of hilarious affectations in her vocals, while Frainier – convincingly tiny – plays and sings her role with depth and nuance.
Meanwhile, the orchestra sounds great – a couple of sour violins in the second half notwithstanding – and the elegant sets evoke just the right mood. Elizabeth Barter’s costumes are lovely and colourful (you really oughta see how the members of Parliament swing those capes), and the staging and lighting are as solid as can be. The whole production holds together wonderfully, and all the humour and gaiety that you’d expect from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera come through loud and clear.
There are only three more opportunities to check out Iolanthe – tonight and tomorrow night, plus a Saturday matinee, at McGill’s Moyse Hall. Hurry on over here to reserve some tickets!