From Academic Kids

Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri, is a comic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in two acts. The music is by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan and the libretto by Sir William S. Gilbert. It was first produced in London, November 1882.

By the time Iolanthe was produced, there was a popular myth that Gilbert and Sullivan's success was in part attributable to the titles of their operettas beginning with the letter P, as they had done with every operetta since their first success, Pinafore. Gilbert did not want Iolanthe's title leaked to the public, so he came up with the idea of replacing Iolanthe with Perola everywhere in the operetta. This was consistently done during production, and the name Iolanthe was restored only shortly before the operetta's premiere. There is an opera with the same name by Tchaikovsky.

The proper pronunciation of the name is "Eye-O-LANTH-e" .



Act I

As a result of the pleading of several of the fairies, the Queen of the Fairies agrees to pardon the fairy Iolanthe for her past sin – that of having married a mortal.

Iolanthe rises from the frog-infested stream that has been her home in exile, and is surrounded by her fairy friends. She tells them that she has a son, a half-fairy, half-human named Strephon ("He's a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal"). When the fairies depart, Iolanthe meets with Strephon, a handsome shepherd boy, and hears from him of his love for the Lord Chancellor's current ward of court, beautiful Phyllis. Strephon is despondent, however, as the Lord Chancellor has forbidden them to marry – partly because he himself wishes to marry Phyllis, as do half the members of the House of Lords. Iolanthe promises to help her son, in part by arranging for him to become a Member of Parliament. Phyllis, a shepherdess, comes into the glen, and she and Strephon share a moment of tenderness.

As they leave, a cadre of the peers of the realm arrive. They are all, it turns out, in love with Phyllis, and appeal to the Lord Chancellor to settle the matter and decide who will have her. They send for Phyllis, who declares that she won't marry anyone but Strephon. The peers are unhappy at her rejection, and beg her not to scorn them simply because their blood is too blue. Strephon approaches the Lord Chancellor, but he gives the youth a legalistic reason why their marriage is not possible. Disappointed, Strephon calls on Iolanthe for help; she appears, and promises to support him in every way. By chance, two of the peers and phyllis (whom they are vainly persuing) stumble upon Iolanthe and Strephon in a warm embrace, and jump to the obvious conclusion. The Peers and Phyllis are convinced that Strephon is being affectionate with an (apparently) young woman, and scoff at claims that Iolanthe is Strephon's mother. Phyllis is angry and hurt, and rejects Strephon for this "infidelity". The peers just laugh and made rude jokes, and even the Lord Chancellor somes to chide Strephon for his unseemly behavior. Strephon, unable to adequately explain himself ("She is, has been, my mother from my birth,") calls for help from the fairies, and they appear but are mistaken by the Peers for a girls' school on an outing. Enraged, the fairy queen pronounce a curse on the peers: Strephon shall not only join their number, but will be able to get any bill he proposes passed. He is to be the instrument of fairy vengeance, disrupting Parliament and causing trouble.

Act II

The fairies have come to Westminster, where the Queen is somewhat smitten with Private Willis of the Guard there. They have come to oversee Strephon's rising career, and to mercilessly tease the peers, who are grumbling about the trouble that M.P.Strephon is causing in Parliment. As he now "leads the House of Commons", he has preumably risen to become Prime Minister! On top of this, Phyllis can't seem to decide which of two selected peers she wishes to marry. The Lord Chancellor proposes to settle the question by marrying Phyllis himself, a plan that evokes horror from both Strephon and Iolanthe. To save Strephon from losing his love, Iolanthe reveals to the Lord Chancellor that she is his own wife, long believed to have been dead. She is still alive, and Strephon is his son.

This revelation triggers a flood of changes of heart. The Lord Chancellor is delighted to find his beloved wife once again. Phyllis finally believes that Iolanthe is Strephon's mother, and is reunited with him. The rejected Peers are compelled to look elsewhere for brides. The Fairy Queen, on the other hand, is not happy, and arrives to punish Iolanthe with death for betraying the condition of her pardon by returning to her husband. She is somewhat shocked when the rest of the fairies inform her that they've chosen husbands from among the peers, themselves. The Lord Chancellor suggests a solution: change the law so that fairies must marry mortals. The Fairy Queen, who never wanted to kill Iolanthe anyway, cheerfully agrees and proposes to her beloved Private Willis. Presumably they all live happily ever after, and they all leave together to live in fairyland.

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