Archive for September, 2018


Richard Rodgers: Johnny One Note

September 25, 2018

I’m going to do a few videos on Richard Rodgers. Here’s the first of what I think will be 3.


Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

September 9, 2018

Iolanthe Poster

A Word About the Piece:

Iolanthe is a wonderful operetta. It has many of the qualities Gilbert and Sullivan fans admire in other operettas; a ravishing overture, hilarious plot complications, scathing commentary on class distinctions, pointed and very funny dialogue, and some extraordinary music.

It also represents a few steps further down some avenues Gilbert and Sullivan had been exploring for several operettas now:

Copyright Protection

Gilbert and Sullivan were irked by the revenue they lost by pirated productions of Pinafore, and in the operas that followed, they worked diligently up front to put a stop to the copycats. They took the Pirates of Penzance to America itself, establishing copyright by premiering it simultaneously in the UK, although the UK performance was not a real production. Here they would actually open an American and an English Iolanthe on the same day, the American production conducted by Sullivan’s right hand man Cellier. Here, to pull a fast one on anyone trying to steal their work, Gilbert and Sullivan actually operated with a false title for nearly the entire rehearsal process, changing the name of the operetta and the title character at the last moment, just as Verdi had kept La Donna è Mobile under his vest until the last moment in the first production of Rigoletto.


HMS Pinafore had referenced living public figures, Pirates is, I believe, an elaborate in-joke on copyright piracy, and Patience had been a satire of the Aesthetic Movement. In fact, G&S and D’oyly Carte had been concerned that American audiences wouldn’t know enough about the Aesthetic Movement to get the joke, so they sent Oscar Wilde on a lecture tour of the states to fill people in. Here in Iolanthe, Gilbert has chosen a topic of great interest in the Victorian era: they loved fairies. And within the piece itself, public figures of the day are satirized. At one point, a character breaks the fourth wall and addresses a real celebrity audience member, Captain Shaw.   


Patience had been the first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to appear at the newly completed Savoy Theatre, the first public building in the world lit entirely by electricity. But Patience hadn’t opened there, so it wasn’t written to take advantage of the newest technology. Iolanthe didn’t pass up the chance to use newfangled electrical wizardry. The fairies each had a battery pack that lit stars in their hair and the tip of each wand.

fairy queen

A contemporary cartoon from Punch, December 9, 1882

In that spirit, our 2018 Savoy Company production in Philadelphia equipped each of the fairies with transparent wings that lit up in various colors reflective of their mood. The wings were each connected to the wifi in the venue, and could be controlled by an app on a cell phone. Our production staff is pretty amazing. 

Sullivan and Wagner

We often read that Iolanthe is the operetta in which Sullivan most references Richard Wagner. But to most fans of his work, Sullivan is the precise opposite of Wagner; witty, economical, allergic to pomposity, and never ever dull. So what did Sullivan think of Wagner? And how Wagnerian is Sullivan in Iolanthe, anyway?

In Purgatory

An 1878 cartoon in The Musical World entitled In Purgatory shows Sullivan beset by demons, including Anton Rubinstein and Richard Wagner

When the teenaged Arthur Sullivan went to study at the Leipzig Conservatoire as the first recipient of the Mendelssohn Scholarship, English culture was in the grip of a Mendelssohn Mania. There was an expectation that Sullivan would return to become the English Mendelssohn, and Sullivan came home with a suite of incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, an obvious nod to Mendelssohn’s wildly popular Midsummer Night’s Dream music, also written by a composer in his teens.

In Leipzig, Sullivan had encountered the music of Schumann, Schubert, and also music of the New German School: Wagner, Liszt, and Von Bulow, who were not well known in England at that time. It is telling that when he returned to England, he told everyone who would listen about Schumann, and in December that year, he sought out Rossini in Paris and played through his Tempest score for the Italian master. 5 years later, he and George Grove traveled to Vienna to track down some lost scores of Schubert. These friendships and enthusiasms confirm the young Sullivan’s musically conservative tastes. He remained ambivalent about Wagner his whole life, interested in the new work and ideas, but skeptical of the execution of those ideas in the operas themselves. (Sullivan adored Die Meistersinger, but we’ll save that discussion for next year when I cover Yeomen of the Guard)

Audiences have identified many Wagnerian threads in Iolanthe, but I have only found a couple of places where Sullivan’s music is specifically referencing Wagner.

There is a Wagnerian flavor to Sullivan’s music accompanying the Fairy Queen near the beginning and the end of the opera. Here’s the queen’s explanation of Iolanthe’s banishment:

Iolanthe Example 1

And here’s a very similar bit of music in Act III, Scene I of Wagner’s Die Walküre as Brünnhilde gives the broken pieces of the sword Nothung to Sieglinde:

Iolanthe Example 2

Another place that seems to be a Wagner quote is the end of Phyllis’s very sad commitment to give herself away to any old Peer at the end of Act I:

Iolanthe Example 3

Which seems to be a rather silly quote from the Prelude to Tristan Und Isolde:

Iolanthe Example 4

Entire books have been written about the daring first chord in Wagner’s version. The chord has its own Wikipedia page. Sullivan harmonizes it with a simple Italian Augmented 6th chord.  

Other places people have identified as potentially Wagnerian seem like a stretch to me. Many of the spookier passages, including the fairy “Aiaiah!” passages might just as easily be from Weber’s Der Freischütz, and Sullivan had already covered that ground in The Sorcerer. The oboe solo when Iolanthe rises from her prison doesn’t really remind me musically of Die Alte Weise from Tristan und Isolde, the downward scale of the Chancellor’s fugue doesn’t really sound like Wotan’s spear motive at all, and Iolanthe’s scene with the Lord Chancellor isn’t musically anything like Wotan’s farewell. Many have also pointed out that Sullivan gives ‘signature tunes’ to many of the characters in the opera, and he includes them in the overture to tremendous effect. But Sullivan had been doing that for several operas now, and he seems determined not to develop the ideas in the orchestra during the piece, only in the spectacular transformation of the Captain Shaw motive into the gem at the center of the overture. One way of describing it is that Sullivan uses motives symphonically, but in a pre-Beethoven symphonic method, in arriving back at a familiar musical idea after some time away, as when Sonata Allegro form arrives at a recapitulation. By contrast, Wagnerian drama uses motives the way a post Beethoven symphonic development would, where the excitement arrives by just how many possible permutations of a tune a development can reveal. .

Gilbert had many years of experiences writing burlesques of opera, and Iolanthe has many spoof connections, not least of which are the costumes. The Fairy Queen’s costume, for example was a carbon copy of Brünnhilde’s in the Ring Cycle, which had only that year reached  England.

And “Willahallah! Willaloo!” is a hilarious replacement for “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! Wagalaweia! Wallala weiala weia!” even if the music isn’t anywhere near what those ridiculous Rheinmaidens sang.

What Sullivan had to say about Wagner gives us a wonderful insight into his mind and should make us very happy that he was not a Perfect Wagnerite.

Sullivan wrote in his diary after seeing Das Rheingold:

“It is difficult to know how Wagner could have got up any enthusiasm or interest in such a lying, thieving, blackguardly set of low creatures as all the characters in his Opera prove themselves to be.”

He wanted to empathize with his characters so that he could make them musically compelling and distinct from one another, a distinction he did not hear in Wagner. He wrote after seeing Parsifal in 1884:

“There is nothing characteristic in the music sung by each individual. The music of one individual would do just as well for any other.”

(Five days after writing that line, he would start work on The Mikado)

He liked the idea of musical themes returning to connect the evening together, but he found Wagner’s use of continuous motives tiresome and boring. After attending Götterdämmerung at Bayreuth, he quipped:

1st Act 4 to 6 Dull and dreary. 2nd act 6:30 to 8. Just as dull and dreary. 3rd act 8:45 to 10 Very fine and impressive.”

He wanted the Orchestra to be subordinate to the voices, telling the San Francisco Chronicle in 1885, “[Wagner] has shown us the combination of the drama and the opera, but deviated from his theory or was at fault in practice in concentrating all the dramatic effects in the orchestral portions of his work, and subordinating the stage and its action to the orchestra. He has shown us a picture that can be painted, but has not painted it himself.”  (emphasis mine)

In the same interview, Sullivan laid out his own vision of opera, which he did not think he had yet achieved:

“The opera of the future is a compromise. I have thought and worked and toiled and dreamed of it. Not the French school, with gaudy and tinsel tunes, its lambent lights and shades, its theatrical effects and clap-trap; not the Wagnerian school, with its sombreness and heavy ear-splitting airs, with its mysticism and unreal sentiment; not the Italian school, with its fantastic airs and fioriture and far-fetched effects. It is a compromise between these three – a sort of eclectic school, a selection of the merits of each one.

Yet that is exactly what he had already done with Gilbert, his music combining Mendelssohn’s grace, Rossini’s tunefulness, Offenbach’s genial humor, Schubert’s creativity of accompaniment, and just enough Wagner to give us a good laugh at ourselves.

Gilbert and the Politics of Encore verses in 2018

We presented Iolanthe in the Spring of 2018 in America and in the Summer at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Harrogate, during a particularly fraught political climate in both countries. In each venue we included some encores that poked a little fun at the Trump administration and at the Brexit negotiations. Both at home and abroad, we experienced both delight and dismay, with the thought occasionally expressed that potentially polarizing political opinions were perhaps inadvisable. On one of the facebook Gilbert and Sullivan forums, a festival attendee pointed out that a great number of the amateur companies had made allusions in their productions to current political situations. (the only other one I saw was a very pointed Trump impersonation in the second act of The Gondoliers by a Canadian company. It made me laugh) The aforementioned Facebook poster questioned the wisdom of inserting such material, especially given the unpredictable politics of the audience attending the festival. The responses to that post were generally in favor of such insertions. For my part, I understand and partially sympathize with the view of those who want the theatre to be a place where people of broad political outlooks can agree at least on their love of G&S. But I think it’s also worth noting that Gilbert’s lyrics and scenarios had some real teeth in their contemporary world. It’s only our temporal distance from Victorian concerns that make them seem tame. They were not. I offer these quotes from contemporary reviews of Iolanthe from the original production:

“He…[Gilbert] tries to prove that members of the House of Lords are a collection of amorous and senile do-nothings, scarcely removed from idiocy, and that the members of the House of Commons are dull and stupid, the mere creatures of party… Thus we find, within the compass of a two-act piece, derision of the judicial system, of the Peers and Commons, and of Love, Truth, and Friendship… As a moral lesson, I prefer ‘Punch and Judy’ to Iolanthe.”

-Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, December 2, 1882

Others were more positive in their assessment. The barbs were funny because they were true:

“The witty playwright has shown us the ridiculous side of many things before now, and we can only suppose that the umbrage taken in the present instance is because the cap happens to fit better than usual.”

-The Weekly Dispatch, December 3, 1882

And to the precise point that our contemporary audiences expressed, using remarkably similar language, The Globe questioned whether the Comic Opera was the place for such observations:

“Mr. Gilbert’s cynical allusions to the House of Peers may be prompted by strong political convictions, but are surely out of place in the libretto of a comic opera, produced before an audience of presumably varied political opinions

-The Globe November 1882 (emphasis mine)

“When therefore, a first night’s audience, prepared to laugh itself sore, and in great measure consisting of Mr. Gilbert’s avowed admirers, finds that gentleman exhibiting a tendency to import pathos and politics into a ‘book’ like that of ‘Iolanthe’, it may be excused for expressing disappointment as well as surprise- the more so because the pathos smacks of anger, a passion altogether out of place in a ‘fairy opera’, and his politics are bitterly aggressive. Anything like a moral, pointedly recommended to public attention in connection with ingenious buffoonery and put into the mouth of such a character as Mr. Gilbert’s hero- a diverting monstrosity, half fairy, half mortal, whose only raison d’etre is the wealth of comic contrasts suggested by his dual nature- is calculated to exercise a depressing effect upon people who went to laugh, not to cry; to be tickled into complacency, not roused to indignation. The libretto of ‘Iolanthe’ has been utilized by its author as the vehicle for conveying to society at large a feeling of protest on behalf of the indigent, and a scathing satire upon the hereditary moiety of our legislature. Advocacy and denunciation of this sort are all very well in melodrama, where telling ‘points’ may always be made with the unmerited wrongs of the poor and the reprehensible uselessness of the aristocracy. But they jar upon the ear and taste alike when brought to bear upon us through the medium of a song sung by half a fairy in a professedly comic opera.”

-William Beatty Kingston The Theatre, January 1, 1883

(I am indebted to the new critical edition for my access to these reviews)

In light of that, I think the most Gilbertian thing to do is to point the satire wherever the barbs will land best. Another way of putting it: If you are among those who think politics should stay out of G&S performance, you would probably have been among those deeply disappointed at the premiere of Iolanthe.

Before You Start:

A great place to start with any G&S Operetta is the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive page.The page for Iolanthe is pretty extensive, including interviews and reviews of early productions. It seems to be missing an errata list. I’ll cobble one together as I go.

The most commonly used edition is the Schirmer vocal score, edited by Bryceson Treharne. It’s perfectly acceptable. I linked to Amazon here, because most people these days buy from them. But do be aware that they sometimes lump together more than one edition of the same score, so you might accidentally get a rival edition when you order.

When it comes to the full score, you’re in a major bind. The old Kalmus Full Score is, as of my typing these words, about $140 with shipping and handling. But this score is infamously awful, and paying that much for something that’s widely loathed seems like rewarding something we don’t want to encourage. Fortunately, there is now a magnificent Broude Brothers 3 volume Full Score, with a critical source report, all the available cut material and fragments you can’t find anywhere, like the original banda parts. It’s a smorgasbord; it literally has everything, it’s handsomely bound, and the layout is easily legible. Unfortunately, this full score set is over $400. Unless you are a spectacularly well endowed company and can afford to accumulate a library of critical editions, or perhaps you are a wealthy music director who is doing this for fun, this edition is not financially feasible. I am fortunate enough to work at a University through which I was able to borrow the score through interlibrary loan, and perhaps that is the best option. As wonderful as the new Broude Trust edition is, though, it is not without its own errors. I will point out the handful that I discovered while I was using the score. What this score needs is an Oxford University edition, like the Yeomen that recently came out, edited by Colin Jagger. That comes in under a hundred dollars, and seems to be pretty good, if not completely exhaustive.

I believe in conducting chorus rehearsals from the vocal score until the chorus is off book, and then switching as early as practicable to the full score to conduct rehearsals. There is a real wealth of detail in the orchestration that you as a music director need to be aware of that is simply not present in the Piano Score. If you are renting parts, do check to see if you can get your hands on the score that goes with them to use as you rehearse. It goes without saying that conducting the operetta in performance with an orchestra from the Piano Vocal Score is an unpardonable infraction unless it is absolutely unavoidable.


As always, the OakApple Press page laying out all the major recordings is complete and fantastic. Many of these recordings are available on Spotify, but I encourage you to buy a hard copy. Looking to D’Oyly Carte for style or pronunciation help is a good idea, but I’m sorry to say that even in the case of vowels, you will find very little uniformity from one D’Oyly Carte recording to the next. 1960 D’Oyly Carte is the one to have.

If you’re going to be Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP. There is a very expensive new edition I have not yet read. If it’s anything like its predecessors, it’s indispensable.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Good stuff, especially seeing the shows in the context of the whole output. I come back to this book again and again.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.” Sullivan doesn’t always notate phrasing or articulations, and while it’s easy to say, “Let’s just leave it up to the taste of the players”, it’s sometimes necessary to actually make clear decisions as a conductor so that the ensemble is telling the same musical story. I have developed a system with colored pencils, where I listen to a recording of a particular year with, say, a red pencil in hand and just mark interesting articulation, dynamic, or tempo choices for the key moments. Then I go back with a different color and enter another recording’s take on the same moments. Pretty quickly one begins to realize what is standard, what is done almost every time, and what is open to interpretation. You will also find your own preference in those places where there appears to be a wide range of opinion. To me, this is the beginning of discovering your own voice as a conductor; finding where the limits of expression have been in the past, and deciding what you are drawn to in answer to the points that are vague.

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

As You’re Casting:

Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor

This is one of the great patter roles in the repertory, primarily because he sings one of the greatest patter songs ever written, the Nightmare Song in the second act. He also has some dialogue and monologues about conflicts of interest that are a hilarious rough draft for Pooh Bah in The Mikado. If you run a Gilbert and Sullivan company, your candidates for this role will be the same people who play the Major General and Joseph Porter. That is to say, terribly high class, fast talking Baritones or Tenors who don’t mind not having any high notes.  



Lord Mountararat

Mountararat is a baritone, the more prosaic of the two principal peers, and sings an important patriotic (?) song near the top of Act II. If he has a high E, there is an ossia note at the end of his song that is nice. Otherwise it is a very ordinary baritone role, playable by your Chief of Police from Pirates, your Corcorans from Pinafore, or your Pooh Bah’s from the Mikado. (The Broude edition mistakenly identifies Mountararat as the tenor and Tolloller as the baritone)

TollollerLord Tolloller

Tolloller is a great role for a comic tenor. The most beautiful moment for the character comes in No. 8 My Well Loved Lord, in which he sings ‘Of All The Young Ladies I Know” His lyrics are much more poetic than Mountarrarat’s, and Sullivan’s melodies for him far more lyrical. If played in this way, the dialogue between the two men in Act II is even funnier, as Mountarrarat plays on Tolloller’s sentimentality to try to goad him into giving up on Phyllis’s affections. Without this distinction, (and the distinction of their vocal ranges) the two are basically identical, and we’d agree with Phyllis that “There’s really nothing to choose between you.”


Private Willis

Private Willis

Willis is a wonderful role for a bass or a baritone who doesn’t mind standing at attention for the better part of an act. In exchange, he can sleep through Act I entirely, unless your production is so short on men that he is required to be a peer as well.


Strephon is the kind of character type that would normally be a tenor, but Strephon is really more of a lyric Baritone, playable by the same kind of actor that plays the Pirate King in Pirates. As I’ll mention when I get around to discussing Phyllis, I think Sullivan is making a choice to simplify the romantic leads in the operettas, having experienced particular difficulties casting Frederic in the American premiere of The Pirates of Penzance, he wrote a far less demanding tenor role in Patience, and here a role with a low G that tops off at an E flat.

Queen of the FairiesQueen of the Fairies

This role is best sung by a true contralto, if you have one. And for once, Gilbert doesn’t spend the entire opera mocking her, she’s a strong, assertive woman, playable by the same type of actress that plays Ruth, Lady Jane or Buttercup. Our Queen aptly described her as a ‘cougar’. You will want to hear the passage on 118-119 in the Schirmer Score, which tracks both the higher end of the queen’s register, and also the mock-Handelian runs she has to navigate in the Act I Finale.


Gilbert and Sullivan are so wonderful in the way they distribute interesting parts for different ranged voices of different ages. Iolanthe is nominally a soprano, but rangewise more of a mezzo, a mother, and a very young woman. (otherwise the plot doesn’t work) This makes her a really interesting part to play, and she has the most moving aria in the opera.


Celia is the higher voiced part of the two featured chorus Fairies, although there are alternate notes that make her somewhat more manageable if you wish to cast a lower voiced singer. Gilbert in his planning thought of Celia as the ‘first fairy’, or the higher part, but Sullivan thought of Celia as the higher of the two. The higher part on page 16 of the Schirmer score is the one Sullivan wanted; the lower version is his rewrite when the original Celia couldn’t hit the high notes.


Leila is the lower voiced part of the two featured chorus Fairies. The Broude edition has swapped the voice types of Leila and Celia in the Dramatis Personae, becauset originally Celia was supposed to be the higher of the two voices, and the authors quibbled on this point They also swap the solo lines in the opening number. . Figuring that most productions are going to use the conventional Schirmer score, I’m listing them as they normally appear. The lines are fairly evenly distributed between Celia and Leila. Leila had a number near the beginning of Act I, “Five and Twenty Years Ago”, which was cut for pacing reasons.


Fleta is a non-singing role, and a wonderful role to assign to a deserving company member who is not always among the competitors for the important roles.


Phyllis is the soprano lead in Iolanthe, but one gets the sense that Sullivan was holding back somehow in his writing for her. There is one rather challenging Offenbachian moment and a dramatic descending passage in the first act finale, but none of the fun or pyrotechnics of Mabel or even Patience here. She is the first soprano lead in the G&S canon who does not have a stand-alone aria. (and I believe Iolanthe and Utopia Limited are the only two G&S operas with no proper Soprano arias at all, although surely someone will correct me if I am mistaken) There were two numbers for her in Act II, which were cut. I suspect that the authors had encountered so many headaches casting and recasting the spectacular sopranos and tenors for touring productions that they wanted to tailor a few parts that could be more easily filled, or perhaps Leonora Braham wasn’t quite up to the task. (although that seems unlikely given what they wrote for her subsequently) Even so, your Phyllis should be able to sing in tune the descending diminished arpeggio on page 119 in the Schirmer score and the passage on pages 103 and 104 convincingly. They are by no means easy.


Gilbert had developed many formulas by the time he wrote Iolanthe, and one of his most basic conceits is the presentation of normal English life, turned upside down by a chaotic force. In Trial by Jury, it had been a faithless fiancee, in The Sorcerer, the power of magic. In Pinafore, it had been a young couple’s desire to marry outside their stations. In Pirates, the Pirates are a force of chaos, and in Patience, it is, of course, the two poets. This is the first time Gilbert gives us a story in which the women are the force of chaos, and in which the chaos isn’t English. As such, this women’s chorus is one of the most delightful to sing.

Your sopranos have an A flat above the staff, your altos an E above treble C, going down to the G below middle C.

The need for a substantial men’s chorus is also pronounced in this operetta, if for no other reason, because of the March of the Peers. They have four way part splits frequently, so you will need strong voices in each subdivision.

First Tenors sing up to the A above the staff, second tenors to G flat above the staff, but hopefully also the A. (this lady’s his what?) Baritones and basses sing up to the E flat above middle C, and ideally down to the E flat below the bass staff. (although some baritones can probably get away with only the low G)

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here general note from earlier G&S posts, with some slight emendations.

I am still no expert on RP English pronunciation, but I offer here a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Be aware of the Trap-Bath split. A fellow Savoyard in my tenor section made me aware of this chart, which is very helpful: trap-bath

2) ‘R’s that begin a word are tripped or rolled. ‘R’s that come before a vowel are tripped. ‘R’s that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the ‘r’ pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it. (although you may encounter different kinds of Rs if characters have regional British accents)

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter: In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”, and certainly not wooder, my Philadelphia friends. But be careful not to overcompensate. I have noticed that some Americans are so anxious to Britishify their speech that they change to ‘t’ sounds that are truly ‘d’s. Lady should not be Laty, as I’ve heard people say when attempting to posh up their language. Not every ‘d’ needs to become a ‘t’, only the ones that are truly ts to begin with!

7) As I continue to conduct these pieces, and after continuing encouragement from the English members of our American company, I am beginning to become fixated on words like “all”, and the second syllable of “Doctor”, “Major” and “Sailor”. The British “all” has a darker vowel than the Americans use, almost to the point of sounding like ‘ole’, and the second syllable of the ‘or’ words is pronounced like ‘or’, not ‘er’, as Americans would say it. I am still conflicted about that particular one, because the D’Oyly Carte recordings are by no means consistent on that point, and especially at speed, it is very difficult to articulate a tall ‘o’ vowel in such a word. It is something to keep one’s ears open for.

This video may be of use to you.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started. There are some places in this show where pronunciation will be governed by a rhyme. I will try and hit each of those points as we go.

Going through the show number by number:


This overture is by far the best of those written up to this point in the operas. The Sorcerer’s overture had been assembled by Hamilton Clarke. Sullivan Sketched the overtures to HMS Pinafore and Pirates and Alfred Cellier completed them. Eugen D’Albert wrote the overture to Patience, which is, I think, the second best of the batch so far. In the case of the overtures with Cellier, it appears they worked together to assemble the medley of tunes, and the job was considered so last-minute and perfunctory that it was something of a waste of time for Sullivan to do it, the understanding being that Cellier would simply pull the orchestrations from their positions in the opera, connecting them as competently as Sullivan knew he would. When we think of it in terms of composers like Rossini, Mozart, or even Carl Maria Von Weber, this practice seems like cheating. Can we imagine Mozart pawning off the overture to Figaro to Süssmayer? The recits, yes. The overtures, no.

But it’s helpful to remember that Mozart is not particularly the model for these affairs. Offenbach is. Offenbach also handed over most of the overture duties to his assistants, and seemed to have preferred just jumping right into the action. Particularly when his operettas hit Vienna, Offenbach was required to add an overture, because the Viennese expected one, rather in the same way Verdi had to add dances whenever his operas made it to Paris. The reason D’Albert’s Patience overture is so good is that Sullivan gave him a little room to develop the material, which is exactly what an arranger under pressure can’t do. Cellier was working too fast on the one hand to really say anything interesting in the overtures beyond what Sullivan had already done elsewhere in the opera, and on the other hand, creatively altering the material of your boss is the kind of license that could lose you your job.

Sullivan seems to have worked hard on the Iolanthe overture. There were two productions opening simultaneously, one in England, and the other in America. On October 29th, 17 days before the opera opened, Sullivan sent instructions about the overture to Cellier who was conducting the American premiere: “Write one yourself.” If we allow a week for the boat carrying the mail to get to America and for the mail to arrive to him, that leaves about 3 weeks for Cellier to write the overture and assemble the parts, and that’s while conducting rehearsals. In this case, the length of the transatlantic journey of an overture made the composition of a second one infinitely easier. (as far as i know, Cellier’s version is lost) Sullivan himself was a bit rushed, rewriting the overture several times and finishing 2 days before Iolanthe opened. Incidentally, people frequently marvel at composers finishing overtures at the very last second, forgetting that there is very little reason to finish one any earlier.

I often think about Sullivan’s mindset as he wrote, frustrated by his inability to make headway as a serious composer, yet having this amazing platform with Gilbert to have his music before the public. I can’t help but think he must have realized he was leaving to his assistant one of the only places where his musical imagination could run unhindered by Gilbert’s Topsy Turvy constrictions. And as many people have remarked, this overture develops the thematic material beautifully! Sullivan’s treatment of the Iolanthe theme is exquisitely treated in the opening 48 measures, and I think this is probably where listeners begin to think Sullivan is going to give us a leitmotiv score. As I explain above, Sullivan doesn’t really fulfil that expectation. At Letter Q, Sullivan gives us a magnificent riff on Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony that manages to sound like very good Tchaikovsky as well. We discover after this texture is established that Sullivan is going to elevate the most trivial moment in the entire opera (the queen’s stepping out of the plot and breaking the fourth wall to address a famous audience member) to what can only be described as sublimity.

Sullivan also begins to play rhythmic games here that he will explore throughout the opera, as the piece keeps threatening to slip from 6/8 back into 2/4. It’s a little silly to say that he begins doing that here, since this is quite literally the last thing he wrote, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Sullivan is making the audience aware of rhythm here. I’ll try and make that case more strongly later.

The Schirmer score is missing a trill on the last note before E and a fermata on the downbeat of the 28th measure of rehearsal Z. The tempo indications beginning at rehearsal Y in the Schirmer score were not in any of the parts I saw. (and I saw 4 sets of parts) I rather like them!

The Broude Trust critical edition has what I believe are errors in measure 234, 2nd violin must surely be a G sharp mid-measure, and 236 2nd violin downbeat must be E.


1.Chorus: Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither

Choose your tempo at the beginning from your ideal tempo when the quarter notes enter. It’s faster than you might expect.

See if you can really draw a distinction between the chorus music with eighth rests and the passages with true legato. Many people don’t know that the conventions of music notation demand that the text be separated by syllable as the words would appear in the dictionary. Thus Trip-ping and Hith-er, rather than Tri-pping and Hi-ther as we might prefer when singing. Americans, be sure you have a very tall vowel on ‘dance’ and ‘entrancing’, that you flip the ‘r’s that appear internally in words like ‘fairy’ (rather like very short ‘d’s) and that you eliminate the many ‘r’s that appear at the ends of words like ‘hither’, ‘thither’ and ‘our’.

The line ‘yes we live on lover’ is odd. I agree with those who say it’s meant to be  a kind of shadow vowel after ‘love’, which trick rhymes with ‘discover’, but of course, you have to leave the ‘r’ off the end of the word discover to make that rhyme work. You were, to be sure, doing that anyway.

Note at rehearsal G that the chorus is singing, “We are dainty little fairies” fortissimo, Sullivan’s loudest dynamic marking. I think this is meant to be a joke. Do observe the rests, though, even as you portray these stomping dainty fairies.

The last page has two similar phrases that are maddeningly not identical. ‘Most’ is only one note the first phrase, and two notes in the echoing phrase. This will not happen automatically, I assure you.


2. Invocation: Iolanthe! From Thy Dark Exile…

The orchestral accompaniment in this number is simply exquisite, and one of several places where orchestral reductions of the wind section are most inadequate.

At the entrance of the fairies, I really don’t see much use in saving the altos for the second phrase; I had mine sing right along from the first ‘come to our call’. Your director will have thought of some way to get Iolanthe on stage, perhaps covered in seaweed. You will have to balance your inclination to indulge the oboist in a languid tempo against the time it takes for Iolanthe to enter, otherwise, she will perhaps be left on stage looking bewildered for quite some time before opening her mouth to sing.

I can’t imagine why the Animato marking in the Schirmer vocal score at the top of page 26 appears in the middle of the measure. Surely it belongs at the beginning of the 2nd measure before rehearsal F. Watch for a clean cutoff at the end. You may want to adjust the location of the end of that note to make for a more uniform conclusion of the choral part.

From Thy Dark Exile

3. Solo and Chorus: Good Morrow, Good Mother

The introductory open 5th in the bass with a lilting 6/8 melody in reeds above shows us that even at this late date, English audiences knew the markers of pastoral music, and associated them with shepherds, as they do in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, and innumerable other pieces referencing shepherds.

The left hand in the closing figure is oddly clumsy to play, but surprisingly effective in its orchestral context!

4: Solo and Chorus: Fare Thee Well

Note that near the end, the word “We” in the last phrase comes on beat 3, not beat 2 where it had appeared earlier.

4a. Duet: Good Morrow, Good Lover

The number is almost exactly the same as 3. To those who suggest this as one us Sullivan’s Wagnerian leitmotiven, I say that this is really nothing more than a reprise. The idea is never developed further than a key change the next go around. Again, that’s not a knock on Sullivan. Not every thread needs to be woven into a tapestry to make a compelling piece of music theatre.

5. Duet: None Shall Part Us From Each Other

There are some odd errors in the Schirmer score. The easiest one to clarify is that the accompaniment in the first ending on page 39 should read exactly as the accompaniment in the first measure of the second ending. I keep finding sources that say the repeat should go back to the 3rd measure and not to the beginning. The major recordings follow this practice. But the new critical edition does not list that correction, and includes no notes clarifying the discrepancy. Your guess is as good as mine, but my preference is to go back to the beginning as notated. Going back to measure 3 feels very odd to me, and the number doesn’t overstay its welcome. The critical edition has an error in the 2nd clarinet in measure 10. It should read F#. Also of note is the fact that your violins may wonder in the second and fourth measures of rehearsal B whether the third note should be marked C# again. I don’t think so, and a courtesy natural is probably in order. The critical edition lists these measures with a C# (I think erroneously)

Sullivan wrote to Cellier that the number should be “sprightly and lightly”, which I think is a fine mood to strike.

Our Phyllis put her last 2 notes up an octave, which is a lovely touch, but rankled the adjudicator when we did it at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. (I’ll write a post on my thoughts on altered pitches another time)

None Shall Part Us6. Entrance and March of the Peers: Loudly Let The Trumpet Bray

This is surely the high point for men’s chorus writing in G&S, or at the very least among the top 2 or three such moments. In addition to its anthemic memorability, there are several other unusual features I will call your attention to.

Traditionally there is a drum roll at the top of this number. Have a look at your parts: some editions include the roll, others don’t. It’s worth a look before you begin working with your orchestra to be certain you’re all on the same page.

I found 2 errors in the Broude Trust critical edition in this number: The third note in measure 23 in the piccolo must be an A natural, and the 2nd note in measure 29 in the double bass is surely a C natural, as in the cellos. In measure 155 and 173, the critical edition also has the double basses on a low E flat, which strikes me as unlikely for Sullivan.

A few things to notice in the choral parts:

You will likely find that the low E flat at a bar before Rehearsal E, and in the fourth measure of F is simply too low for your basses. They can jump up to the Tenor E flat easily there. Before G, and throughout that stanza, you do not have that option, because the basses are on their own. They’ll have to open their mouths and emote the note they’re not actually singing.

In the 11th and 12th bars of rehearsal F, be sure your tenors are singing very small half steps. That passage has a tendency to go flat.

Be very careful to play the passage beginning at letter G slowly and deliberately as you learn it, for accuracy of pitch. You may also find that your tenors will tend to slow down and your basses speed up. Tell the basses not to breathe in every single rest, because that will lead to hyperventilation and rushing. And be sure the tenors and your orchestra observe the dotted eighth-sixteenths properly, without letting it devolve into triplets. Both groups should work hard to remain exactly in the center of every beat.

At letter H, you may discover some of your choristers wanting to sing a B flat harmony note that doesn’t appear in the score. This note sounds fine at first, but will subsequently be harmonically confusing to resolve on the fly. To facilitate discovery of the G the baritones are meant to sing, I suggest having the baritones sing the tenor A flat one note before H, then going down the half step to secure that G.

The composer half of my brain puzzles at the tenor line in the 9th measure of rehearsal J and the similar passage 4 measures later. The tenors drop down to the low B flat while the baritones jump up to the high B flat. When I suggested to my group that we simply leave the tenors on the high B flat, they strenuously objected. And then as we rehearsed it, I began to hear the effect Sir Arthur must have been going for. I can’t say that I understand it; on paper, it just seems very ineffective. But in practice, it brings out a new color for the end of the phrase, and he certainly knows better than I do what he wanted.

Before I leave rehearsal J, I just have to tip my hat to Sullivan and say that the passage is harmonically absolutely extraordinary.

At rehearsal K, in the name of all that’s holy, carefully go over the words the tenors are singing. They are not uniform.

At the eighth measure of rehearsal K, we meet one of Sullivan’s unusual experiments with phrase length, in which he upends the binary phrasing he’s established, and combs everyone’s hair backward for about two pages. Let me try to explain what I mean:

We’ve had 2 measure phrases very consistently through the whole number, as befits a march. But here Sullivan introduces a rocketing E flat major scale which drops us off mid-measure in the beginning of a new phrase a measure and a half later. The new perceived downbeat occurs on a structural upbeat, and that sets the chorus off by half a measure from the metric stress of the bar. This is why your chorus will initially miss that entrance until you drill it. If you are conducting from the piano in rehearsal, you will discover that it is very difficult to cue a phrase beginning on an upbeat with your head while simultaneously playing an E flat major scale in octaves and then continuing to play offbeats against the new tune. When I had to cover the accompaniment in a rehearsal or two, I proved myself wholly inadequate to this challenge.

Sullivan could easily have simply inserted a measure of 2/4, allowing us to reorient ourselves toward the new perceived downbeat. But instead, he rather perversely leaves us beating the bar the opposite way with upbeats for downbeats and downbeats for upbeats until the 7th measure of rehearsal L. This is where your chorus will also sing it wrong for the first 2 weeks, because Sullivan has to extend the phrase by half a measure to make up the difference and land the downbeat on the correct part of the measure. You will have to experiment with ways for the chorus to remember how many times they say tan-tan-ta-ra. I found that different people needed different memory aids, and that a strong choreographer can be of great assistance in tying the words to the movement where possible. Of course, they can always just watch you. (ahem.)

Because of the prominence of the brass, this is a number which feels most empty in orchestral reduction. After all, we have a complete onstage banda part for an early production, so we know that Sullivan himself was not even satisfied with the sound of the full orchestration!


7. Song and Chorus: The Law Is The True Embodiment

The fugato entries here are really ingenious, but present some trouble for pick-up orchestras, since the first entrance is by the cellos and basses, who are perhaps not accustomed to playing this fast in this context. They are followed by the violas, who are also not famed for playing quickly or decisively. (I say these things with fondest affection) By the time you reach the group of strings capable of driving the tempo forward, (the violins) you will probably have settled on a tempo that is slower than you or your Lord Chancellor may have preferred. (I did not have this problem in Harrogate, where the festival orchestra knew perfectly well how to execute the passage) After struggling with this for a while initially with an American orchestra, my concertmaster spoke to me confidentially:

“I think I see your problem. I have noticed that you are giving the cellos and basses the tempo you expect them to play.”

“Yes, good.” I replied.

She said, “No. Give them a tempo a third again faster than what you want and you stand a chance of getting the tempo you want.”

I did so, and the results were indeed better. Obviously the effectiveness and advisability of this method is contingent upon your performing ensemble, but I offer it here for your potential use.

The number itself is fairly straightforward, but here are a few thoughts anyway:

In the third verse, as Gilbert instructed Cellier in a letter for the American Company that premiered Iolanthe on the same day as the English company, it is customary to to slow down around letter C, and to in fact come to a full, brief pause after “one for Ye”, “One for Thou,” “One for Thee”, “Never, oh Never”. In measures 84, 85, and 86, the first violin should only play beats one and 4. Some engravings of the orchestral parts will include this as a separate third verse; others incorporate the alteration in a notation included over the music read for all three verses. You might have a look at the parts there, so you know how to talk to your players if confusion arises.

Finally, the last 4 measures are in C major. Sullivan indicates ‘Major!’ in the full score, because he knows the copyists and the players are likely to want the C minor they’ve been playing up until this point. Just be prepared to politely say, “Major, please” in the first orchestra read when you hear an A flat four measures from the end.

The Law Is The True

8. Trio and Chorus: My Well Loved Lord and Guardian Dear

The number begins with the shepherd theme moved up to F# as an introduction to a brief arioso for Phyllis, punctuated by one of Sullivan’s signature unison male chorus phrases celebrating the heroine.

Tolloller’s subsequent melody over a gentle barcarolle is one of Sullivan’s most exquisite and exotic, the B sharp adding a piquant and dissonant touch to the F# minor tonality. (Is he singing one of the Lord Chancellor’s F# minor 6/8 Andante judgments Mountararat mentions in Act II?)

Note that when the men sing “of birth and position he’s plenty”, their line is full of rests, but that Tolloller’s remains legato. Don’t let them throw one another off. Conducting the rallentando in 6 may out to be somewhat tricky. The thing is in 2, naturally, but it will slip into 6 at letter C, then back out again in the third measure of C. Also observe the delightful details in the violas, as the descending two note sighs set off the rhymes.

Mountararat’s verse is lyrically more prosaic, and his legalese text culminates in a clever pun. Accordingly his music has modulated into D, and Sullivan has given him a much more pedestrian vocal line to sing.

Phyllis’s verse returns to F#minor, with all the flavor of Tolloller’s verse, and yet she manages to one up him with a spectacular flute obbligato as she mentions ‘pipes and tabors’. When this passage is well played, it is just breathtaking. The tune is so distracting that one is likely to miss the point of the words; Tolloller has offered grammar and spelling for two and blood and behaviour for twenty, with plenty of birth and position. Using his melody, she strikes him down on each point: She spells all the words she uses, (presumably all she needs) her grammar is as good as her neighbors, and she’s born the same way everyone else was. To Mountararat’s rather too fine point about the party preferences of the house of Peers, she turns his pun back on him, saying that she knows where to look when she wants to find somebody, implying that it isn’t them. It’s a really lovely lyric.

Coming around the tail end of the number, the chorus parts require some attention. Get that ‘look’ 2 before letter H to be quite short, help your tenors and basses count the ‘ah’s they have to get to, and practice conducting the six pattern to get you through the acappella section.

One of my favorite Sullivan touches appears at H; a melody built around hopping thirds that seem to trace out two planes, one higher, and one lower. Other examples include the opening of “My Name Is John Wellington Wells” from The Sorcerer and the transition between verses in “If Saphir I Choose To Marry” from Patience.

If I may commit a minor heresy, I must say that I find the transition back into the closing ritornello awkward, and I wish Sullivan had overlapped the instrumental melody with the last chord. But we must do as he says, mustn’t we?

9. Recitative and Chorus: Nay, Tempt Me Not

The Schirmer score has an extra measure up top, which was cut early in the performance history of the piece. Begin in measure 2. When the orchestra is there, be sure you have the attention of your cellos and bass as you begin, or you’re dead in the water. The indication ‘recit’ in the second measure makes no sense. Ignore it.

Americans, the words are pronounced ‘des-ti-tyoot’. and ‘ver-tyoo’.

You may wonder why these 10 measures are a single number. Evidently this was once a much longer set of couplets.

10: Song and Chorus: Spurn Not the Nobly Born

Tolloller’s solo is a typical lovely lyric tenor solo, but the Tenors and Basses of the echoing chorus can prove somewhat difficult to manage, having different rhythms than one another, and plosive closing consonants, which are unforgiving. Be sure the first time through we do not slow down much. Save that for the second time. I also suggest everyone cut the word ‘Flood’ short, and have the basses and baritones cut their second to last ‘blood’ short, giving the tenors a catch breath before their last ‘ah, Blue Blood’. This way the ‘d’ sounds all arrive in a coordinated fashion, and it should be fairly clear exactly where they go. The last time the men echo, the rallentando makes the problem of coordinating them more acute, especially when you add in the tenor, who will naturally want to sing the A flat for some time. This will take some practice to get right.

There appears to be some controversy about the rhythm of “Hearts just as pure and fair”. The downbeat rest we find in the Schirmer score appears to be an authentic correction; Singing it as a quarter matches Sullivan’s original take on that measure. I think that means both versions are basically legitimate.

Sullivan’s modulation to G major is gorgeous.

11. Recitative and Chorus: My Lords, It May Not Be

We can see by the rehearsal letters and by the lack of closing cadences that 9, 10, and 11 are meant to be one continuous unit.

Be sure your men make the last syllable of ‘horror’ in the 4th measure of D very short. This is a good general rule for G&S, and the word appears frequently enough to require the rule. The two chords before the Lord Chancellor’s recit are usually played before he begins singing, not as written. He should wait. Note also that your chorus echoes “A shepherd He…” and so forth are meant to be pianissimo. (they’re hiding!) The written C for Strephon 3 measures before rehearsal F is sometimes sung as an E a sixth lower (in the 1960 D’oyly Carte recording, for example)

3 before rehearsal G for the chorus should read “betrothed are they, and mean to be”.

My chorus baritones and basses had a tendency to sing the second measure of H as the 4th measure, beginning on E flat. Keep your ear out for that.

The problems at the end of the number are identical to the ones at the end of The March of the Peers, with different words. Whatever strategy got you through that will work as well here.  

Once again the Broude Critical Edition has a low E flat for the Contrabasses in measure 89. I doubt Sullivan’s basses had the note. Probably this was a spot where Sullivan had indicated the basses to double the cellos and simply wasn’t taking the range into account.

12. Song: When I Went To The Bar as a Very Young Man

If there’s one spot in Iolanthe where we most feel our writers treading familiar waters, it is here. The Judge’s Song from Trial by Jury, and When I Was A Lad from Pinafore are virtually indistinguishable musically or in content from the Lord Chancellor’s “How I got this way” number. We can overlook it, though, because in Act II, the Lord Chancellor will sing the most original patter song in the canon.

The Broude Critical edition has inverted the lyrics of verses 2 and 3. I’m a little surprised nobody caught that.

In measures 32 and 33, when the Lord Chancellor sings, “The Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage”, the strings traditionally only play beats 1 and 2, omitting the upbeats. It’s all much slower there.

13. Finale: When Darkly Looms The Day

This is the longest single number in Gilbert and Sullivan. It won’t feel like it for the audience, but it will feel like it during rehearsal. You’ll be blocking the first act Finale for most of the rehearsal process.

In an interesting article called Tonal and Structural Designs in the Finales of the Savoy Operas, with Some Suggestions as to Derivation by John C. Nelson, (one which is surprisingly difficult to get your hands on), the author tracks Sullivan’s finales section by section. After carefully comparing the finales, he observes that Sullivan’s Finales are constructed more like Offenbach or Rossini than Mozart. Mozart’s finales are a marvel of construction, partly because they seem to be oriented around a careful tonal plan, actually showing adhering in a broad sense to Sonata Form. This tonal planning shows the strong evidence of enlightenment thought. In Sullivan’s music, and in other romantic era music, the need to ground large scale movements in opera is secondary to the moment-by-moment drama of each dramatic transition. In other words, it is Gilbert’s job to make certain there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and Sullivan’s job is to make each plot twist land harmonically and melodically, and no one is watching the store when it comes to getting back to the starting key. At several points in this Finale, Sullivan makes hilarious detours at critical moments, and he also plays disorienting games with phrase length that I’ll examine below. These moments break any sense of classical unity in the finale, not only pulling the work further away from the high classical models, but pulling even away from the Comique composers Sullivan clearly admired. More on that later. I think when we examine Iolanthe, Gilbert and Sullivan have left far behind the concerns I plotted out in my Pinafore Guide. Gilbert is exceptionally free with his lyric material, trusting that Sullivan’s depth of invention is sufficient to create as much material as will be necessary to get through it all, and indeed, Sullivan rises to the occasion.

I’m going to combine my rehearsal suggestions with my thoughts on the writing, and then leave the Broude errata for the end.

The fermatas in the first few pages of the finale were tough to get out of until I realized that I didn’t need any fermatas at all. Just beat time straight through those measures and there’s well more than enough time for Phyllis’s asides.

Saint James’s park is pronounced something like ‘sint’ James’s pok. Cut off ‘remark’ and ‘dark’ on beat 4 for the men with a strong ‘k’ consonant and no ‘r’ sound. The same goes for the extremely brief madrigal.

Sullivan indicates a long cadenza ad lib after the Allegro Agitato, but he didn’t write one, and there aren’t a lot of recorded options either. The problem is this: The chord implied at the fermata is a G dominant 7 chord, which might be simple enough, except that in the previous measure an A flat places the mode squarely in C harmonic (not melodic) minor. So any cadenza you place here will have to battle the augmented second between A flat and B natural, an exoticism not normally encountered in cadenzas like this. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Put the A flat and the B on opposite sides of a run, like so:

Iolanthe 5

Or some sopranos will prefer an even bouncier one, like this:

Iolanthe 7

Others may want something just as flashy but more legato. This one just converts the scale to a melodic minor and lands the a flat at the end to get us thinking minor again. 

Iolanthe 6

Or write your own. Remember she’s angry.

I hope your tenors can all hit the high A. “This lady’s his what?” It is often shouted, which I suppose is preferable to hearing the entire tenor section crack at once. I also prefer the ‘ha ha ha’s throughout the finale to be sung, not shouted, and in time, not out.

I hope you don’t mind a digression here into a very odd rhythmic game Sullivan begins right after rehearsal E. By inserting two half notes into an otherwise square phrase of quarters and eighths, Sullivan creates a 9 measure phrase, which throws the symmetry off in a disorienting way. If you are thinking in terms of balanced phrases as you conduct, you will feel strange at the tail end of each of these phrases, as though you have somehow lost a beat somewhere.

It’s easy to dismiss this passage as just a funny anomaly, but if you take into account that Sullivan has already played this exact game twice in the Peers music, it begins to feel intentional. My knowledge of 19th century operetta is not exactly encyclopedic, but when I noticed these odd phrasings, I got curious and threw on a bunch of Offenbach and Johann Strauss operetta recordings, and I kept an ear out for odd numbered phrasings. I didn’t hear any at all. I suppose Offenbach was just too busy cranking out the tunes to bother being creative with phrase length, and Strauss was too connected to the dance to play games like this.

2 further points and then I’ll get back to the play by play:

  1. We know that Sullivan was very careful not to allow the meter of a text to circumscribe his rhythmic creativity. He often plotted out several possibilities for a given text before choosing one, and at his most inspired, Sullivan found ways of reordering the rhythm of a text to stunning effect. This is almost exclusively found in the solo material, though, not in ensemble work. He might just be branching out here.
  2. It’s just possible that Sullivan was trying to be disorienting in these very specific spots to make a subtle dramatic point; never so jarring as to stop the proceedings, but just odd enough to cause a minor sense of, “what just happened?”. A glance at where these moments appear in the opera almost justifies this hypothesis.

The one scenario that doesn’t hold water is that Sullivan wasn’t paying attention.

The passage beginning “My Lord, of evidence I have no dearth” is bel canto lite for Strephon, containing declamatory phrases, and a legato melody over a Donizetti or Early Verdi accompaniment. A few pages later he’ll get a more dramatic moment when he calls the fairies in. Note that even though Sullivan is very clearly referencing Bel Canto style vocal writing here, Strephon’s range is extremely limited, even for a Baritone.

Make sure your Strephon sings e-vi-dense, not e-vi-dunce.

On page 100 of the vocal score, change the didn’ts to ‘did not’s.

The passage leading up to the Allegretto after J (not a word, you did deceive, you did deceive her) is the first of Sullivan’s brilliant left turns.  The chorus part is rather thrilling, and Sullivan must have liked it very much. He uses it here and then drops it for the remainder of the Finale, but it appears as a transitional passage before Q in the Overture, and in that guise it sounds like a rather fine chunk of the development passage of an early Romantic Era symphony. But having stoked that fire up here in the finale, Sullivan drops us without ceremony (without even a full introduction) into a simple, pretty tune for Phyllis that snidely quotes the prelude to Tristan and Isolde. It makes the head spin a little. In an even more bewildering touch, the vamp is twice as long on the repeat of the tune as it was in the initial hearing, which goes against normal rules of musical construction. Generally one uses longer preliminaries on the first time through, and trims them on the second pass. For all the talk of Gilbert’s topsy-turviness, Sullivan here employs more than a smattering of his own.  

Conducting the end of this passage gave me a little grief. The tune begs to slow down and luxuriate right at “I turn to you”, speeding up after breaking. (at least that’s how I hear it) But having slipped into 6/8. It proves very difficult to bump back into 2 mid-measure for the upbeat to the measure after ‘breaking’. My orchestras were very forgiving there, and somehow things came out alright, but it wasn’t due to my beat pattern, I can assure you.

The Allegro Con Brio is so Offenbachian, we seem transported to La Belle Helene. As originally written, the chorus actually took a turn at her melody, and as I look at it in the Broude edition, I can imagine the sounds the chorus made as they sang it; I feel pretty sure they were not up to the task.

At L, Phyllis can sing a third higher on ‘if you but choose’: F,E,F A,G#A, That is in fact the original intention for the line, I believe. Following the phrases that appear around it, the printed version looks very much like a compromise. Is this evidence of a soprano not quite up to the task in that original production? Maybe so.

In the passage at N, Strephon actually gets some excitement, and an E flat to sing. Be sure he sings D flat and not D natural in the measure before O.

Your fairies have been offstage for a while. Be sure they observe the rests as well this time as they did at the top of the show.

Strephon’s “The Lady of my love…” tune is a great one. The Schirmer score has an error at the top of page 112. The first measure should read “Fairies”, not Chorus. At the first measure of 113, that should read ‘only’ five and twenty.

Sullivan plays 2 more rhythm games here:

  1. In his normal vein, he moves up the second iteration of “Tho’ she is seventeen and he is only five and twenty” by 2 beats. Your chorus will want to learn this detail earlier rather than later in the process.
  2. In his newly absurdist vein, he arrives by ascending scale at the new tonic a full beat early on a sforzando, turning a pickup into an ersatz downbeat on the entrances of Tolloller and Mountararat. Once you clue into it, it’s wild fun.

If you’re looking for a chorus diction warmup, you can do no better than the text for the full chorus that begins on page 114: “To say she is his mother is an utter bit of folly”. Learn the tune very slowly, and insist on a quiet dynamic until Sullivan indicates at the third measure of rehearsal W. It’s a nice effect. You’ll like it.

At the Allegro vivace, come to a full stop after beat 3, and then cue the Lord Chancellor to inaugurate the new section.

This melody is in a minor mode, which is uncharacteristic for Sullivan’s finales, and it’s surely one of his most inspired passages. If you find the right speed and execute it well, it should get an applause break before the Fairy Queen leads us into the ending. The theme has been compared to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Tempest Sonata, and the main motive of Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino.

Iolanthe 8

Go Away Madam

Iolanthe 11.jpg

Beethoven Egmont Overture Op. 84 passage, reduced to piano and transposed for comparison

Iolanthe 9

Beethoven Tempest Sonata Op.31 no. 2, (transposed, meter altered for comparison)

iolanthe 10

Verdi, Forza Del Destino primary motive (transposed, meter altered for comparison)

What they all have in common, aside from genius, is a minor mode, a triple meter, and 4 measures of tonic, followed by 4 measures of dominant.

The Fairy part at rehearsal X is tricky, particularly where the altos split off into their own part. Note also that Sullivan has simplified the line slightly at ‘Brazen Faced’ from the Lord Chancellor’s version of the tune. It becomes more complicated again when the quodlibet comes together after AA (second rehearsal A in the Schirmer score)

My only quibble with this glorious passage is that Sullivan wound up in a key that prevents Phyllis and the Queen from properly contributing to the proceedings. When they enter at AA, they are not in a strong part of their ranges, and only a true piano dynamic lets them be heard in this texture. When Phyllis sings “Should repent…”, Sullivan seems to know that it isn’t flashy enough, since he marks it Fortissimo and adds 3 other Sopranos to the line. This passage is the classic Sullivan exotic harmony moment we often encounter in his First Act Finales. As far as they go, this one is mild, an F natural pointing us in an Aeolian descent, but my gosh is it hair raising when it happens! The Fairy Queen joins the line when it comes in range. The piano reduction at CC is not an accurate version of what is happening in the orchestra, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much. This is more like what’s really going on:

Iolanthe 12

At letter DD, we know from Sullivan’s letter to Cellier that he wanted the 2 beats of the new tempo to equal one bar of the previous section.

Note that ‘respectful speech’ for the Queen and ‘with dames unknown’ are not identical to the previous phrases. Note also that before rehearsal HH, the men come in a full measure later than they do at rehearsal FF. Also, be sure that the last syllable of ‘proprietor’ rhymes with ‘for’.

You may find the brass entrance before JJ is hard to cue. Beat quickly through the recit measures, then pause and address the brass for each entrance in preparation for the answering phrase. When you get to the final one, give a strong ONE downbeat as a pickup. Pros will be fine. Amateur orchestras will probably mess that entrance up the first couple times you run it.

I found it effective to put a crescendo in the word “Oh…” leading to “spare us”, with “us” being quite short.

This is the second moment in the finale where Sullivan leads us to a climax, only to make a quick left turn into a goofy non sequitur. There is a very traditional change to the second time through the chorus part, right after “He’ll command a large majority”:

Iolanthe 13

Here as elsewhere, the word is pronounced Pah-lee-uh-ment.

During the curse section, conduct beats 1 and 2 quickly, then use beat 3 to cue BOTH the last beat of the measure and the men. When you get to the 3 measures before the key change, conduct beats 1,2,and 3 quickly and then use beat 4 as an upbeat to land the next measure.

The Allegro Molto may take you a couple times to get right. Be sure the last syllable of Horror is super short. (as always) I would also alter the Fairy ‘they’ to a quarter note, which is what nearly all recordings do. The eighth note is awkward, hard to cue, and makes the word unintelligible. For ease of singing, allow your altos to drop the octave on “nor hide the” rather than dropping a minor 7th mid-phrase. And no sliding from ‘trem’ to ‘ble’, for goodness sake.

Then follows the third and funniest non sequitur. The crazy tremolando curses, and the diminished and dominant harmony of the 10 measures of response from the chorus is as dramatic and legitimately scary as anything since the shades in the Sorcerer, and after all that buildup, Sullivan drops us right into the bounciest, frothiest closer imaginable, an earworm that won’t quit.

As you start teaching this passage, clear up the difference between the soprano line at “who shall say what evils may result in consequence” and the one at “oppose his views or boldly choose to offer him offence”

Since there are so many mid-word rests, this is also a good place to clear up which side of the rests the consonants go. Ex: hi-deous, ven-geance. Etc.

Before rehearsal NN is a landmine for your chorus: the women sing a B natural on “The” at the beginning of the line ‘the word prestige is French’, then an A natural on the repeated phrase. Your chorus will want to sing an A again on the pickup to rehearsal NN, not a low D. That octave is important.

Note that the sopranos sing the first lyric “who shall say what evils may…” to the second melodic variant formerly applied to “oppose his views”.

The word ‘cannaille’ is here pronounced Kun-eye.

The little “That word is French” and “A Latin word” echo phrases are somewhat hard to hear, especially in the lower parts.

How great is this little detail in the Broude critical edition?

A greek remark

Make sure the countermelody in the basses and tenors at rehearsal SS has rests in the first phrase, and is legato the second.

After the Second World War, all the recordings have ”Away We Go” for sopranos and altos just as the Basses and Tenors at rehearsal UU.

If you’re not competing in the International Festival, let one of your sopranos pop the high B flat 2 before VV. Only one, though.

Cut off the last note on the downbeat, not a half a beat later.

The Broude edition has a couple fishy moments, including an earlier lyric variant around measures 199-202 that isn’t generally done in performance, and which I advise against. At measure 200, the second note in the first and second violins is E flat, not F, I believe. I believe that the traditional pickup to R in the first violins and in other similar places is probably right, even if it isn’t in manuscript. (although the commentary is silent on this point) Whatever rationale Sullivan may have had for leaving the upbeats out would surely have applied to the flute and oboe around 257 as well, and they have the pickup.  In measure 269, I believe the Second Violin should read E flat in the third beat. F is certainly wrong. At the fourth measure of letter D, the Broude critical edition has a D for the Queen in the fourth beat, contradicting the Schirmer score, which has a G there. I suspect the Schirmer is correct.

In the last 3 measures , a rallentando is in order, but my brass players taught me something important here: don’t take the rall. before the last 2 measures, or the sixteenth note pickups will be sloppy.


14. Song: When All Night Long a Chap Remains

Private Willis opens Act 2, and stays onstage for a great deal of the action. His opening ritornello is almost long enough to be considered an Entr’acte. Because Willis’s melody at B is almost l’istesso tempo from the earlier passage, it can be a little odd to switch into 4, but Sullivan knows what he’s doing. It also gives a little bump to the new tempo at rehearsal C.  Singers generally slow WAY down at ‘Fa La La’. It’s almost worth telling the orchestra to put a fermata on the rest.

An interesting side note about this number: When he was in England, Stravinsky often stayed at the Savoy hotel which was built by Richard D’Oyly Carte next door to the Savoy theatre at which Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas premiered and ran in repertory. In fact, in 1921, He thought of the idea of writing his opera Mavra there.

This photograph was taken at the Savoy hotel in 1921


Stravinsky actually attended some G&S there, which he seems to have enjoyed. We know that like a lot of Russians, Stravinsky delighted in puns and word games, so his thoughts on Private Willis’s aria should come as no surprise:

“What immediately fascinated me was the way the music adjusted to the rhyme. (no foreigner can be in England more than five minutes without immediately learning two words- ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’), recognizable even when they are pronounced ‘liberAL’ and ‘conservaTIVE.”

I have to wonder what Stravinsky thought about Sullivan’s phrasing games in Iolanthe, especially since he was then in his neo-classical phase, where he combines smaller orchestral forces and classical tropes with his trademark mind-game-phrase-length-jujitsu.

When All Night Long

15. Chorus: Strephon’s a Member of Parliament

In our production we had a talented dancer fairy dance the opening, and we repeated the first 10 measures to leave more room for her to dance.

The third measure of E, second note, sopranos is wrong in the Schirmer score. It should definitely be a D, as elsewhere.

Note again that ‘parliament’ is pronounced ‘pah-lee-a-meant’, that ‘all’ is pronounced rather like ‘ole’, and that ‘shake in their shoes’ and ‘kettle of fish’ are not identical in pitch.

It became something of an obsession for me to get the women to cut off the word ‘shoes’ and the men to cut off ‘fish’ at the downbeat of the following measure. In fact, I would occasionally shout out “FISH, TWO, OFF!” three or four times in a row during lulls in rehearsal. I don’t know whether the cast found this endearing or not, but in our brushup rehearsal, the men held ‘fish’ as a joke for the remainder of the number. They tell me the look on my face was indescribable. It was, in point of fact, a ‘pretty kettle of fish.’

The little meter change near the end is easy, but choruses have a tendency to rush near the end.

The Broude Edition has an interesting variant at the end of measure 42, in which the last 3 notes of the measure in the violins and violas arpeggiate the opposite direction from the way they do in the vocal score and other editions of the full score. No mention is made in the critical apparatus. I rather like it, but I don’t know if it’s legitimate, since I can’t find it anywhere else.

16. Song and Chorus: When Britain Really Ruled The Waves

When he was asked permission to use the third verse for political purposes, Gilbert apparently said, “I cannot permit the verse from Iolanthe to be used for electioneering purposes. They do not at all express my own view. They are the views of the wrong-headed Donkey who sings them.”

It takes a surprising amount of breath to get through the verses, so you might want to take that più lento marking literally at the chorus entrance, and move the verses at a good fast clip, slowing down for the choral responses.

In the last verse, Mountararat often sings a high E on the final ‘glorious’ with the Chorus. If your Mountararat doesn’t have that E, Tolloller can perhaps oblige.

Horace Lippincott

Horace Mather Lippincott

This number holds a particular significance for the company I conduct. In 1904, the Savoy Company of Philadelphia, then in its 4th year, produced their first production of Iolanthe. This was also the year Gilbert himself wrote an encouraging letter to Savoy president Horace Mather Lippincott, still a treasured relic of the organization. Lippincott wrote the following lyric to be sung to the choral response music at the end of When Britain Really Ruled The Waves: “Let every heart be filled with joy and sing the praise of old Savoy.” Since 1904, we remove our hats and sing it at the close of every rehearsal, and before and after every performance.

17. Soli and Chorus: In Vain To Us You Plead

Note that the indication of who is singing in the Schirmer score has omitted the Peers. They only sing two notes, but they do in fact sing!

In most of the historical recordings, the “Don’t go!”s are spoken. Pay attention to the dynamics though, it’s funnier as an aside! Be sure Celia sings ‘laws’ with a dark vowel, and that the word ‘because’ actually rhymes with it; don’t say ‘becuz’. This goes for the chorus too. All the responses should have short final notes. Maybe even put a staccato on them to be sure.

This piece is beautifully orchestrated on a knife edge. The likety-split obligatto is in the pizzicato violins, (both first and second) which can prove a little tiring, particularly if you mistakenly read Sullivan’s Allegretto indication as Allegro. Pizzicato strings are generally quieter than we imagine they’ll be, because we’re spoiled by souped up studio pizz. we hear on recordings. At the end of the pizz section there’s a quick switch to arco and back again, and your section may decide they want to plan out some staggered rest stops to facilitate this and to avoid fatigue. The festival orchestra in Harrogate did it like it was child’s play. (It’s not like it’s Tchaik 4 after all…) The rest of the orchestra is trying to stay under the pizz sound, the cellos and violas divided up and playing harmonies, and the flutes, clarinets and bassoons working as hard as they can to play sotto voce. Flutes are nearly inaudible anyway in that register, but the clarinets and bassoon may need a reminder. The reduction I rented and abandoned made this problem worse by eliminating one of the violas and one of the cellos, which meant that the Double Bass was commandeered to play 2nd cello, and the second desk of the second violins was pushed into service as first viola. The bass is far too thick in that register, and there were fewer violins on the melody, which made the balance issues worse. Reduction is a tricky business, folks.

At rehearsal L, the Broude Critical Edition leaves out a low A traditionally played on the downbeat (in addition to the printed F#) in the second violin. I’m not sure which is right.

18. Song and Chorus: Oh Foolish Fay

I first want to put something out there that has confused me; perhaps you can all enlighten me: Gilbert clearly intended the verses to be a triple double rhyme throughout:







And so forth.

So should we not sing ‘tendensigh?’ Is this one of those words that was in the midst of a pronunciation shift when Gilbert set them? Is it intended to be humorous? (in which case maybe we should sing it ‘sigh’?) I found no recording of anyone pronouncing it so that it actually rhymed.

Interestingly, the beginning of this tune comes back as the beginning of “If You Go In”.

iolanthe 14

iolanthe 15.jpg

The song is straightforward. Slowing down a little on your way from the verse into the chorus is perfectly acceptable, as is the addition of an E natural the second time through on your way up to the F, but please don’t be too indulgent on either count.

19. Quartet: Though P’rhaps I May Incur Your Blame

After what is surely one of the funniest passages of dialogue in Gilbert and Sullivan, there follows this short, beautiful quartet. Sullivan shrewdly plans the first phrase in a key that shows off the most beautiful part of the tenor’s midrange, modulating en route into the dominant, where the baritone can sing very nearly the same melody down a fourth. The end of Mountararat’s phrase allows Phyllis a third, altered iteration in B flat minor that somehow cadences just as Tolloller’s did, dropping us off in a mini-madrigal. The composer part of me marvels at how well Sullivan writes a cappella passages for mismatched vocal ensembles. Tolloller and Phyllis have melodic material in thirds and sixths, which are so charming that we don’t miss an alto part, Mountararat is playing the pedal point, performing the function of a french horn, as it were, and Willis provides a bassline which would not be out of place in an Anglican hymnal. Willis’s cadenza (which in our production he addressed lovingly to his rifle) is a loony non-sequitur, reminding us that this quartet about friendship is sung by two men who are too much rivals to be friends, a woman who has no feeling whatever for the others, and a man who is not involved at all in the proceedings. Getting OUT of the cadenza is trickier than you might think. A strong downbeat will get Tolloller going, then Willis comes in beat 3, then the other two add their two cents in beat four. Note that Sullivan has asked for a tempo there. I think the key to staying in tune during the a cappella section lies with that insistent A flat Mountararat keeps articulating, and everyone else orienting themselves to him. He needs to stay right in the center of that pitch, and everyone else needs to truly be listening.

The Broude Critical edition has the last 2 notes for of measure 31 a step low for Sergeant Willis!

20. Recitative and Song: Love Unrequited Robs Me Of My Rest

This is the greatest patter song in the English language. If you require further of my potentially inane thoughts about the development of Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter writing, see my commentary on My Name is John Wellington Welles in my guide to The Sorcerer. As in all other aspects of their writing, Gilbert and Sullivan begin by essentially writing parodies of French, Italian and German models, quickly mastering the basic technical necessities, then finding fluency, and finally leaving the models behind. In the case of these patter roles, the initial models are Italian. (Rossini, Donizetti, and the other Buffa composers they in turn inherited their forms from) Gilbert quickly develops a way of building lyrics for these kinds of numbers that is a marked improvement on the content of the historical models, and Sullivan figures out a way to avoid monotony by embedding motivic ideas in the long string of syllables. Here in the second act of Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor uses the tiniest sliver of a connection to the plot (I had a bad dream because she doesn’t love me) to tell a wild shaggy dog story. This freedom gives Gilbert free rein to indulge in ideas that would not at all be out of place in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. For his part, Sullivan is freed from the kind of square formal construction he customarily uses; we hear repeated passages, but each repeated passage is full of new detail, there are few closed cadences, no feeling of, ‘here we go again’, and the singer gets almost no time to breathe; it is a true tour de force. It’s also critically important to note that unlike the Italian models of the bel canto era, Sullivan’s baritones are almost never given anything vocally impressive to do. Figaro et al. must sing fast and rather high for baritones, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter baritones are allowed to focus on the articulation and on the comedy. In addition to the formal freedom the authors have allowed themselves, there are in Gilbert’s lyrics some moments of his most inspired lunacy, and at least one moment where Sullivan gives us music of totally unnecessary beauty and surprise, words we frankly do not associate with patter arias.

The recit is inaugurated with the Lord Chancellor’s fugato. Sullivan uses fugue ideas in his concert works in various contexts, but in the operettas, he prefers to use fugue ideas to express the workings of the legal system or a lawyer’s mind. The chorus in Trial By Jury sings a fugato at “He’ll tell us how he came to be a judge” In All Hail, Great Judge! In that context, we’re clearly meant to hear Handel. It’s really interesting to look at Sullivan’s method here in Iolanthe though. In The Law Is The True Embodiment, he was working up the Lord Chancellor’s entrance, so he has time to get most of a fugal exposition out. When he appears in the first act Finale, Sullivan has no plans to be in 6/8, so he cleverly adds an eighth note here and there to the figure to shoehorn it into 4/4. A more self-indulgently learned composer would have taken this third iteration in act 2 to finally pay off the fugue and give it a development. But Sullivan is ever a dramatist, so he gives us the same exposition we began with in Act I, cutting 7 measures from the opening and leaving us on a wonderfully pregnant half cadence. The measures of orchestral commentary in the recitative are mini-developments of the possibilities of this little fugato idea, but they really exist to get us into d minor and to emphasize the descending chromatic interior line over a dominant pedal which is the unifying feature of the end of the work.

iolanthe 16

The opening of the aria proper is simplicity itself, tracing chords as a simple accompaniment elegantly modulates from D minor to F, then pointing itself back toward D minor just before rehearsal F. We then get the first vocal example of the descending chromatic scale Sullivan will make so much of later.

iolanthe 17

At rehearsal G, Sullivan returns to the tune and harmonization of the aria’s opening, but the flutes have given the proceedings a decidedly queasy pall, the descending chromatic line is harmonized rather daringly, and at rehearsal L, Sullivan is in two meters at once, a trick we haven’t heard since How Beautifully Blue The Sky in Pirates. This device in Pirates is depicting the disparity between chorus and principals. Here it seems to be depicting a disordered mind at cross purposes with itself.

At Q, we hear some of the more daring harmonic writing Sullivan ever attempted. The vocal line now ascends chromatically while the bassline descends in 4 note chromatic phrases, each beginning a whole step above the last. At the apex of this ascent, the balloon deflates, the vocal line turns around, and over a pedal G, diminished chords slip half step by half step into 4 measures of G#diminished 7. This unexpectedly drops us into D major, but with the tonic chord in a 6/4 position. With the ever-so-delicate scoring of violins and flutes, it is a moment of totally unnecessary beauty. Over this orchestral dawn is a vocal line suddenly stripped of chromaticism, and now becomes all Ds and As.

And just as he did at the end of Strephon’s a Member of Parliament, Sullivan switches abruptly to 2/4 just to be more emphatic, the Chancellor sings a very un-spooky D major descending scale, and the orchestra rounds the proceedings off with a lickety split codetta.

Note that the new idea at the end of the aria is in a way a kind of extension of the Fugato theme. I don’t call this a development really, Sullivan’s mind doesn’t seem to work that way. The ideas do not fundamentally change, they simply reappear in different contexts.

iolanthe 18.jpg

iolanthe 19

The Broude Critical edition is missing F sharps in the 2nd A clarinet in the second measure of J.

I have to share with you a terrific parody poem I found in a book called “How to be Tremendously Tuned in to Opera” from the late 1980s. It’s Mark Holtby’s summary of the plot of Iolanthe to the meter of the Nightmare song:

When your mother’s a fay,

someone’s certain to say,

on observing her looks and agility:

‘Your assertion that this

is your Ma we dismiss;

such a statement has no credibility.’;

When your filial embrace

is pronounced a disgrace

by the girl you’re expecting to marry you,

And she flirts with the peers,

and together their jeers

are combining to mock you and harry you;

You may feel some relief

from your fury and grief

when the Queen of the Fairies enlightens them,

And, a Member ‘elected’,

at last you’re respected-

nay more, your omnipotence frightens them-

You’ve regained your lost bride,

and the fairies decide

they will after those nobly-born gentry go,

While the Queen of them all

is in amorous thrall

to the private she’s spotted on sentry go.

But you haven’t won through

For though Phyllis loves you,

The Lord Chancellor’s scored,

He will marry his Ward,

And is deaf if not dumb

To the pleas of your mum,

Till she’s forced to unveil

The astonishing tale

That the husband she had

Is this Lord, he’s your Dad!

So he can’t marry Phyl,

But your mother is still

As a mere mortal’s wife,

Under threat to her life,

Till the queen mends the flaw

In this Fairyland Law

And makes weddings that were

Disallowed, de rigeur,

So the peers will explore terra nova.

And with wings on their backs

Make immediate tracks

For the Chamber above-

And this triumph of love

Is the sign that the opera’s over.

The book is chock full of hilarious things like that. Go buy a used copy.

21. Trio: If You Go In, You’re Sure To Win

First things first: I don’t know what happened with the Schirmer vocal score, but maybe it went something like this: Bryceson Treharne: Tolloller’s line should go on top, since he’s the higher voice type. But Mountararat gets the first verse. Hmm. Well, what if we very clearly mark that Mountararat is verse 1, and Tolloller is verse 2? Great! *enter editor* Aha! The top line is He Who Shies. That must be the title!

…or something like that. My point: the title is, If You Go In, You’re Sure to Win.

There is a tendency to relax the tempo at B, which is fine, but pick it back up again when the melody comes back in, or you’re sunk.

What a wonderful tune.

21a. Song: Fold Your Flapping Wings

This number does not appear in the Schirmer Score, but you can download it here. One of the reductions I looked at was not based on the original orchestration, which is available in the Broude edition appendix. It seems to be meant for Strephon’s initial entrance in this scene, but we placed it  after “…fool that I am” and it worked well there. The number didn’t land in the original production, and it was cut. It’s the most politically incendiary, borderline revolutionary text I can think of in G&S, but I don’t think that’s actually what caused it to fall flat. Sullivan doesn’t seem to have a take on the idea musically. The recitative lacks forward momentum, and when the aria proper begins, it’s strangely discursive. The orchestral interjections seem to promise an excitement the aria itself isn’t providing.

All that by way of saying, if you do reinsert it, Strephon has to sell it, with some bite. He can’t wallow in self pity, you have to point the number out at the world’s injustice.

22. Duet: If We’re Weak Enough To Tarry

After an adorable dialogue comes this extremely brief and to-the-point duet, once intended for Act I. It’s actually has more measures in its form in the overture than it does in the actual opera, where it goes by so fast, it almost seems perfunctory. It is traditional for Phyllis to slow down at Rehearsal B, then pick things up again in the 5th measure.

Watch that ‘tire’ is a single syllable, not Ti-yrrr.

23. Recitative and Ballad: My Lord, A Suppliant at Your Feet

This is the heart and soul of the operetta. It’s deadly serious; Sullivan wrote Iolanthe’s aria pretty soon after losing his mother, and people often speculate (I think rightly) that this beautiful and simple melody is infused with his deep loss. Gilbert gave him an oddly metered text, which Sullivan made short work of.

Behold the placement of the word ‘tears’ in the meter. The Master at work.

It is customary to separate the orchestral interjections from the vocals; begin them after the vocal ends on the first page until the bottom line “Hear me tonight”, when you play them as written.

In Sullivan’s letter to Cellier, he instructed that the first verse should be sung with ‘simple pathos’, and the second ‘more passionate’ The exquisitely simple accompaniment in strings only works at several speeds, and I think you choose the speed based on the tone of the singer. To put it delicately, we want to hear a beautiful tone and legato all day, a less exquisite tone we will want to keep moving…

24. Recitative: It May Not Be

You should get applause after Iolanthe’s aria. If your audience is composed of unfeeling rubes, just plow ahead. Sullivan’s instructions about the tempo are very clear and easy to follow.

In my score I wrote ‘ugh’ in my score above the fairies first ‘forbear’, because cueing offstage choruses is usually a mess. Hopefully you can find a way to get a sight line for them somehow.

There’s an extremely odd rhythmic wrinkle in the Aiaiah! parts: The first time through at rehearsal D, we’re in 2. At F, and at H, we’re in 6. The figure is extremely similar, but not rhythmically or lyrically the same. The first time it’s ‘willaloo!’. The other times it’s ‘whillahalla, willaloo” Do have a careful look at the rhythms. They’re not the same. Spend some time teaching the two versions. Oddly, it all works out in the wash as soon as the fairies block the thing.

Keep the Queen’s Andante moving, and don’t let things get indulgent at G.  The Ds in the final right hand chord are D sharps. The chorus only sings an octave though. (I had some sopranos trying to add other notes there)

You Are a Brave Fellow

25. Finale: Soon as we May, Off and Away

This reprise of If You Go In, You’re Sure To Win is supposed to be a touch faster than the original. ‘Peris’ rhymes with ‘series’ The pronunciation that confused me was ‘beaux’. The French pronunciation is correct; ‘bow’, even though one historical recording sings what sounds like ‘bows’, and there are English pronunciation guides I found that list beaux in English with a z sound at the end, because English sometimes needs the Z sound to indicate plural. I think the non-z way is the best way.

You can add a high B at the fermata for one soprano, unless you’re at the International Festival…

Your Orchestra:

With modern musicals I sometimes counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color, so I think it best to hire as much of the orchestra as you can afford with good players. The original orchestrations are available from Tams, but I can’t imagine why you’d use that when there are available here at a reasonable price or here for free. Reductions can be found here, or here or here for example. (incidentally I think we can now stop reducing this one, fellas)

A reduction of this particular score is not ideal for two reasons: The exquisite Tchaikovsky style flute writing in the overture is already commandeering a clarinet to play third flute. Reducing it further means you either have two clarinets joining your flute or a flute, oboe, and clarinet, which is simply not quite as magical. Further, the March of the Peers is weak sauce when you only have single brass and some woodwinds trying to sound like a full brass band.

I had a rather unfortunate experience renting a reduction that was riddled with hundreds of errors. Instrumental lines were missing completely, measures were inexplicably omitted, melodic lines were missing their final pitches, and in the full score, vocal lines were sometimes gone or in the wrong staff. Fold Your Flapping Wings was included, but the orchestration bore no resemblance to Sullivan’s original, and was presented without comment. I spent a great deal of time locating and correcting the errors in the parts, but we ultimately decided the better solution was to find another edition rather at the last moment. The Richard Balcombe reduction suited our purposes very well. The other edition had tried to solve the reduction problem by moving the missing brass into the clarinets and bassoon and using the trombone as second horn and occasional second trumpet. Balcombe’s edition was far more artful in the use of the the horn to augment some of the missing woodwind passages, and using the oboe as a second trumpet occasionally. While preserving the character of the original instrumentation where possible, Balcombe is also very shrewd in subtly revoicing chords where necessary to preserve the balance among the sections.

I want to also add that it is possible in most G&S to get away with 2 or 3 first violins, 2 seconds, 2 violas, a single cello and a double bass. But in Iolanthe, there are a few places where two cellos is really quite essential, the most prominent being at the Allegro non Troppo of No. 11 My Lords It May Not Be, where full chords below the violins low G are necessary, and there are not enough other instruments capable of playing down there to fill out the critically important introductory passage.

Better that you do G&S than that you ignore it, but do try and do it properly if at all possible, with Sullivan’s magnificent orchestration in full color! Have fun with your production of Iolanthe! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them! Yeomen appears to be next.