In addition to their performances at the Academy of Music, The Savoy Company performs at the beautiful outdoor amphitheater at Longwood Gardens. I could not think of a more perfect setting for a night at the opera. It is a strange mixture of formal and utterly relaxed at an opera at Longwood, as I observed people wearing short shorts and flip flops, formal gowns and flip flops, and suits with flip flops. People all around me were kicking off their shoes and settling in for the night. Pre-show (and at intermission), the audience is treated to a water show while the orchestra warms up. With birds chirping in the background (Was it my imagination or were they chirping in time with the music?) and the beautifully landscaped gardens as a backdrop, I could feel that we were in for a treat. As the opera began at 8:30 PM, it was beginning to get dark. This was the latest show I have reviewed (the ending time was way past my bedtime), and I couldn’t understand why they decided to begin this late. However, it really did add to the “midsummer” night effect.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedic opera IOLANTHE revolves around the fairy world mixing with the political world. Act One begins with the fairies coming from the gardens behind the stage dressed in a strange neon green (I did not like the fairy costumes at all. They looked like aliens.). As the orchestra provides the Overture, they are sleeping on the wall with their lights twinkling. They then show that they are not the brightest fairies in the world with their comedic song and dance “Tripping hither, tripping thither”. The overly dramatic Fairy Queen (Sharon Rose Derstine) invokes Iolanthe (Meghan Williams) from the bottom of the stream to come out of exile. Iolanthe promptly introduces them to her 25-year-old son, Strephon (Mark Baron). He is in love with Phyllis (Rachel Hendrickson), but needs permission from the Lord Chancellor (John Chesney) to marry her. The rest of the story revolves around misunderstandings between the fairy world and the Peers (led by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mountararat (John Nicholas Peters), and Lord Tolloller (Terry McLaughlin), the political group of IOLANTHE. Gilbert and Sullivan spent much of Act Two remarking in their opera about the ridiculousness of politics, with Private Willis (Peter Campbell), a Parliamentary guard, singing about what was going on inside (“When all night long a chap remains”). The Fairy Queen even puts a spell on one of the Peers using the line “You shall be returned to Parliament as a liberal Democrat.”
Hendrickson is sensational as Phyllis, with a beautiful clear, crisp voice that can fill the Academy or sound out over a garden. Phyllis is quite a funny character, especially when she thinks the man she loves (who is half fairy, half mortal) is saying sweet nothings to another woman (who happens to be his mother, Iolanthe, who doesn’t age). When Hendrickson comes together with Baron’s Strephon, they are dynamic together, harkening right back to old times. The Peers were wonderful as a group, entering by coming again spotlighted from behind the garden, dressed in plush red and white. The funniest scenes are when the Peers and fairies are interacting, particularly when the Peers are making fun of them. However, when they fairies fall in love with them, they put a spell on the Peers, making them unable to move their legs.
There was only one sound glitch, but it came at an important part with Lord Chancellor, Lord Mountararat, and Lord Tolloller interacting. Gilbert and Sullivan sometimes change the pronunciation of words to fit the song. For the most part, the sound system was crisp and clear; however, it is very necessary to hear every word in their opera…in dialogue and song.
Admission to this show also gives you admission to the gardens. Go early to walk the majestic Longwood Gardens, and then see IOLANTHE in the same enchanting place.
by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Roberta Morrell, Artistic Director
Dan Rothermel, Music Director
The Savoy Company
May 26-27, 2011 at the Academy of Music
Broad and Locust Sts, Philadelphia PA
June 10-11, 2011
Kennett Square, PA