Iolanthe, Gilbert & Sullivan

Title Iolanthe or The Peer and the Peri
English Title
Composer Arthur Sullivan
Librettists William Gilbert
Language English, Dutch translation available
Genre Light opera (two acts)
First performance 25 November, 1882, Savoy Theatre, London
Time of action Between 1700 and 1882
Place of action
  1. An Arcadian landscape
  2. Palace yard, Westminster, London
Main parts
  • The Lord Chancellor, comic tenor
  • Earl of Mountararat, baritone
  • Earl Tolloller, tenor
  • Strephon, baritone
  • Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards, bass or baritone
  • Queen of the fairies, contralto
  • Iolanthe, a fairy, Strephon’s mother, soprano
  • Phyllis, an Arcadian chepherdess and ward in chancery, soprano
Prominence of chorus Lots of chorus
Orchestra 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani/percussion, strings
Special demands
Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not difficult
Length About 2½ hours, two acts

Among the works of Gilbert & Sullivan Iolanthe stands out for the high level of refinement the composer achieved. The music combines a Mendelssohnian lightness and charm befitting a fairy-tale, with the pump-and-circumstance associated with the House of Lords. Librettist Gilbert, too, is at his hilarious best in this wonderful amalgam of political satire, absurdism and poetry.


Strephon, son of the Lord chancellor and the fairy Iolanthe, is in love with Phyllis, a shepherdess and a ward in chancery, i.e. a minor under the guardianship of the High Court of Justice. By reason of his parentage Strephon is half-human and half fairy, which leads to many complications. Phyllis has three more suitors: two of them members of the House of Lords and one of them the Lord Chancellor himself. Led by the Fairy Queen, the fairies put a spell on the members of the House of Lords. The Fairy Queen falls in love with the soldier on guard before the Houses of Parliament. Phyllis catches Strephon at a rendezvous with a young lady; in vain he explains that the young lady is his mother: Phyllis does not know that, after eighteen, fairies do not age. In the end, after considerable jurisprudential ingenuity on the part of the Lord Chancellor, all turns out well. The Lords are turned into fairies and there is a general pairing off to everybody’s satisfaction.

Costumes Men: members of the House of Lords. Women: fairies.
Link Wikipedia

< L’Île de Tulipatan | Track | Die lustige Witwe >

Tags: Gilbert | Sullivan | Knoppers