Thursday, 17 February 2011

Good morrow, good blogger!

Good blogger, good morrow!

So, last week, I was in a production of Iolanthe. Have I mentioned that? Yes, yes I have, I remember now. And now that it's been over for a few days, I'm going to blog about it.
Not about that production specifically, at least mostly not, but about the show in general. The thoughts it evokes when I read the script, sing through the music, etc.

Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri was the *counts* seventh show (/opera/operetta/whatever you want to call it) that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote together (Including Thespis, the music for which is almost all lost, if you didn't know). I don't really know much about the background of it, though I think I remember reading something on wikipedia about how this was one of the times Gilbert originally proposed the 'lozenge' plot (Something to do with a magic lozenge which makes people act differently, and/or possibly fall in love?) but Sullivan rejected the idea, as he did every time Gilbert proposed it (I think it did make people fall in love, because I think one of the issues was that it would basically just be The Sorcerer again). But I'm not sure on that. I'm pretty knowledgeable about what happens in the shows, but I don't know the background in much detail except for a few snippets.
Mentioning the lozenge and love has reminded me that for my post about Valentine's Day and love and stuff I was going to count how many songs in G&S are about love in one way or another. So I'm going to do it now instead. Opinions on what counts for this may of course vary, also for what counts as a song. Some bits I'm counting as half songs. I expect it to be a big number. Omitting Thespis, because I don't have a copy of the libretto. Here goes.

Trial by Jury - 6
The Sorcerer - 16.5
HMS Pinafore - 10
Pirates of Penzance - 8
Patience - 12
Iolanthe - 11
Princess Ida - 5.5
The Mikado - 9
Ruddigore - 12
Yeomen of the Guard - 9
The Gondoliers - 8
Utopia Limited - 11
The Grand Duke - 9

Total - 127

Wow, that's a lot. Of course they're not all exactly love songs. Some of them are songs about not being in love, or love having unfortunate consequences, or pretending to be in love, etc. But they're still about love in one way or another.
I'm a bit surprised at a couple of those numbers. I would've thought there were more in Ida and Pirates than there apparently are.
I am not at all surprised at how many there are in The Sorcerer. Seriously, the whole thing is about love. There are maybe 3 songs which aren't.

Back to Iolanthe!

Firstly, if anyone didn't know, the word 'peri', which appears in the alternative title, basically means fairy. To be precise:
–noun, plural -ris.
one of a large group of beautiful, fairylike beings of Persian mythology, represented as descended from fallen angels and excluded from paradise until their penance is accomplished.
The show, to really briefly summarise, is about fairies and lords and making fun of politics. I'll go into more detail later, as I go through the script. I have my copy of The Savoy Operas ready at hand for this very purpose (Indeed, I just used it to count how many songs are about love in each G&S show).
Let's start by taking a look at the dramatis personae. If you're unaware, G&S mostly follows the slightly odd rule of listing characters in the order of their social rank rather than their significance to the show, and separated by gender, men then women. So, Iolanthe's dramatis personae, with notes from me:
The Lord Chancellor - Comic baritone, gets the nightmare song which is amazing and also featured in a video linked to in a previous post on this blog, sung quietly and not particularly well by me. Pompous but befuddled. Sometimes I think the pomposity doesn't come across as much as I'd like it to, in the one production of this I have seen (The one I was in).
George, Earl Mountararat - Baritone, gets 'When Britain really ruled the waves,' one of the most pompous songs ever written, which I absolutely love. (This may say something about me. It may say something about be which should really be obvious to anyone who knows me) Technically less important than Tolloller, but gets more lines, also the two are pretty much a double act.
Thomas, Earl Tolloller - Tenor. One of the smaller G&S tenor parts, but still a good one. Part of a double act with Mountararat, as I said. 'Blue Blood' is a good song. Leads the House of Lords apparently.
Private Willis (of the first Grenadier Guards) - Bass. One of the many G&S characters who only appear in act 2, but get one really good song. I may make a list of those characters at some point.
Strephon (an Arcadian Shepherd) - Baritone. Male lead. Well, actually the Lord Chancellor may be onstage a bit more, but Strephon's the protagonist at least. Like many G&S male leads, is absent for quite a while in Act 2. He's half a fairy, which leads to a fair few jokes, not all of them in the script.
Queen of the Fairies - Alto. Very good part. Sort of an exception to the general rule about G&S principal alto roles, in that while she is (presumably) old, she's not supposed to look it, on account of being a fairy.
Iolanthe (a fairy, Strephon's mother) - Soprano I think? Maybe mezzo. Despite the show being named after her, not that big a part. Her main significance plot-wise is all in the backstory, rather than anything actually onstage.
Celia, Leila, Fleta (fairies) - Sop, mezzo (I think?), non-singing. Not exactly bit parts, but for some reason I always sort of thought of them as such. Well, Fleta is. Celia and Leila are sort of the counterparts to the two Earls, but they don't get as much to do.
Phyllis (an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery) - Soprano. Female lead. Anyone familiar with G&S should need no additional information.
Onto a less brief summary of things which happen, in which I will actually mention certain scenes, lines and songs!
The fairies come on, sing and dance around a bit, then deliver some plot exposition - Iolanthe was banished for marrying a mortal. She should've died, but the Queen liked her too much (As she comes on and explains at this point).
In the production I was in, they inserted a whole thing where the fairies were supporting the suffragette movement. They borrowed the song 'The soldiers of our queen' from Patience for the Queen and most of the fairies to come on to (Lyrics changed of course). It worked surprisingly well. And I say this as a great purist.
The Queen then, at the urging of her subjects, summons Iolanthe from the bottom of the stream where she lives, pardons her (In a song which kept getting stuck in my head), and then asks why Iolanthe chose to live at the bottom of a stream. (Among the frogs! Uggh!) The answer? To be near Strephon, who, she explains, is half a fairy - the upper half. His legs are mortal.
When I was thinking of parodying Iolanthe for the Playground, I was definitely going to make a joke about whether that might be a comment on his sexuality. (Sidenote: Parodying Gilbert & Sullivan is rather difficult. Most of the shows can in some ways already be seen as parodies of themselves)
And he soon comes onstage, singing 'Good morrow, good mother!' Yes, that is where the title of this blog post comes from. He's going to be married to Phyllis. He doesn't have the Lord Chancellor's consent, which is legally required, but he's going to marry her anyway!
Take note of this point, because it will come up again.
The Fairy Queen suggests Strephon go into Parliament. (A fairy member! That would be delightful!" declares his mother. But surely if his legs are mortal, so is his 'member'? (I have to wonder how many of these dirty jokes were intentional on Gilbert's part)) He has the problem that his fairy half is a tory, but his mortal legs are "a pair of confounded radicals!" However the Queen says he will be returned as a Liberal-Unionist (In our production, this was updated to Liberal-Conservative, and got a laugh every night as a result of the current British political situation (I think. I don't actually follow the news much)) and she also offers him assistance, should he ever need it.
Fairies off, Phyllis on, Phyllis and Strephon are in love and going to get married, they sing a duet, they go off. "Ralph, surely there must be more to the scene?" I hear you say. Answer: Not much, though there are a couple of innuendos which unfortunately can be too easily missed. They are as follows:
"Why did five and twenty Liberal Peers come to shoot over your grass plot last Autumn? It couldn't have been the sparrows. Why did five and twenty Conservative Peers come to fish your pond? Don't tell me it was the goldfish!"

Next scene! Chorus and March of Peers. Really long, but very good. Has lots of tan-tan-tara in it (Not to be confused with taran-tara, which is from Pirates). Lord Chancellor comes on and explains (in a song) that while looking after the Wards of Chancery, all of whom are under 21, might sound nice, it's actually rather annoying because the Lords would be outraged if he decided to marry one of his wards.
The first few lines of that song I really like, and I feel could be neatly applied to a different character who's all about law and order and not so much about being a bit of a lech.
"The law is the true embodiment
of everything that's excellent,
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my Lords, embody the law."
Don't get me wrong, I like the rest of the song as well, it's funny, but it kind of feels like a different character. Not necessarily a bad thing. That means one can get across two different aspects of the Lord Chancellor's character in that one song.
"And now, my Lords, to the business of the day." The business of the day is that the entire male cast (Minus Private Willis, who isn't on until act 2) are in love with Phyllis. All of them.
So Phyllis is summoned to pick one of them to marry, but she refuses. And they sing about why she shouldn't refuse them, and she sings about why she should, and eventually she admits that she's going to marry someone else, just as Strephon arrives. The Lords go off disappointed, Phyllis goes off for no obvious reason, the Lord Chancellor tells Strephon he can't marry Phyllis, regardless of what chorused nature may have said to him (Unless he can  produce evidence of said pronouncements). Chancellor off.
Strephon is really sad, because the Lord Chancellor says he can't marry Phyllis.
But wait, didn't he say he was going to marry her anyway, "and brave the upshot, be it what it may"? Yes, yes he did. He appears to have forgotten that point, which is why I told you to take note of it.
Iolanthe comforts Strephon by saying she'll ask the Queen to intercede on his behalf. The act 1 finale starts with Phyllis, Mountararat and Tolloller getting completely the wrong idea - because Iolanthe, being a fairy, looks about eight years younger than Strephon, and they assume he's having an affair (He never told Phyllis he was half a fairy, lest it frighten her).
So Phyllis rejects Strephon and decides to marry either Tolloller or Mountararat, but she doesn't care which. Strephon calls the fairies to help him, but they can't convince the Peers that the apparently 17 year old lady could have a son who was almost 25. As revenge for the Peers having been rude to her, the Queen declares that Strephon shall go into Parliament, and pass a load of laws which will annoy the Peers. And then they have a big argument. Curtain closes, end of Act 1.

Act 2. Private Willis sings a song about thinking about politics to pass the time while on sentry duty. It's just occurred to me that I could have recorded a video of me singing that song while my brother was in the bath, to link here. But now he's out of the bath and also my mum came home.
I get self-conscious about singing sometimes. While onstage, I'm usually OK, because it's kind of expected. But just in the house? No. I can only really do it if I feel like I'm not disturbing anyone and can't be overheard. That's why I couldn't re-record the video I did for my last post after I discovered the audio was terrible. Because I had missed my opportunity of being the only  person in the house so I wouldn't feel self-conscious about singing at full volume.
Well, at some point I'll probably do a post about singing in general. I suppose I could include multiple videos in that one.
Back to Iolanthe. I felt the sentry's song was a bit slow in our production. Actually I felt all the music was a bit slow in our production, except for the parts which were instead very, excessively, or ridiculously slow; and one song which I'll get to in a minute.
Edit: I just remembered to add that during the refrain of the Sentry's song, or the corresponding music in the introduction, it is absolutely possible to do the macarena.
Anyway, the Fairies are pleased because Strephon's doing really well in parliament and passing assorted laws, and the Peers are annoyed for the same reason. Today is the second reading of Strephon's bill to open the peerage to competitive examination! And he'll carry it, too! Of course he'll carry it. He's a Parliamentary Pickford: he carries everything! Mountararat explains that the House of Peers is not susceptible of any improvement whatsoever, and then sings 'When  Britain really ruled the waves', to back up his point.
This was the one piece of music in our production which was too fast. This is such a pompous song, it really needs to be, to quote and earlier song, "dignified and stately" (Not "stignified and dately," as we had one drunken Peer singing - we have now adopted 'stignified' as a euphemism for drunk, because clearly the English language didn't have enough yet). It wasn't dignified and stately enough. I didn't think it was pompous enough either. I may have to add this to the list of songs I'm going to record myself singing. There is a risk that it could end up being a very long list. 
Edit: No wait, that song has a chorus bit in it, I can't sing that by myself.
So the fairies really like the peers, but also both sides are annoyed with each other, and the peers storm off. The Fairy Queen berates her subjects for wishing to marry mortals, stating that while she does feel the effects of manly beauty, as exemplified by Private Willis, she casts aside her romantic inclinations in obedience to the Fairy Law.

Phyllis is sad, despite being engaged to two noblemen at once. Said noblemen have yet to decide which of them is to marry her. They now discuss the matter in what I would refer to as the 'Mountararat and Tolloller are clearly gay for each other' scene.
Seriously. They really are.
If Mount (Oh look, more innuendo from the abbreviation!) should rob Tolloller of the girl of his heart, by family tradition, they must fight, and one of them must die. But if he were to survive Mount, his existence would be hopelessly embittered. And conversely, he cannot consent to lose the duel and die himself, because that would crush Mount with unavailing remorse. He tries to deny this, but that tell-tale tear betrays him. In the end, they decide fighting over Phyllis really isn't worth it, and the three of them plus Willis sing a quartet about how great friendship is, before, and I quote from the stage directions, "Exeunt Lords Mountararat and Tolloller, lovingly, in one direction, and Phyllis in another."
Then the Lord Chancellor comes on and sings the nightmare song, which I've already mentioned. And I don't have to add it to the list of things to record because I've already recorded it! Modified rapture!
The two lords tell the Chancellor he should give his consent to his marriage with Phyllis - there's been a whole thing of the Lord Chancellor speaking with his two conflicting capacities ("Let us be glad we are persons of no capacity whatever"); if you know The Mikado, it's like Pooh-Bah advising Ko-Ko about his wedding, he says different things in different capacities. Multiple hats. Multiple boxes on his head! I only just realised that connection just now, and got inordinately excited by it.
They sing a trio, which would go on my recording list if I had a means of multitracking myself. It's a really good trio.
Next, there's a cut song for Strephon. It may go on the recording list. Iolanthe has a lot of good music. It was thought to have too dark a tone for the show in general, but I like it.
He reveals to Phyllis that his mother is a fairy, and they reconcile ("Whenever I see you kissing a very young lady, I shall know it's actually an elderly relative." "Then, Phyllis, I think we shall be very happy!") with a duet. But wait! The Lord Chancellor still won't let them! Again! Even though presumably Strephon could justpass a law allowing him to marry Phyllis at this point? (I shouldn't really poke holes. As Gilbertian plots go, this is abnormally sensible)
Strephon asks Iolanthe to plead their case with the Chancellor, but instead she reveals that he is her husband, Strephon's father (WHAT A TWEEST), so she can't talk to him on pain of death. But she tries while disguised. However, the Chancellor has, after a lengthy speech, consented to his own marriage with Phyllis. Iolanthe reveals herself to him. The Queen is about to kill her, when it turns out that the male and female choruses have all just married each other, and the Queen can't slaughter the whole company. Therefore the law is amended: "Every fairy must die who doesn't marry a mortal." The Queen marries Willis, and away we go to Fairyland!

That ended up as mostly just a plot summary, though I did include occasional comments. Hm. Incidentally, while I usually hate spoilers, in the case of G&S, knowing the plot doesn't particularly affect your enjoyment of it in my experience, because it's more about the ridiculous things which happen along the way. Also some very good music.

I've got to say, I would really like to do Iolanthe again. And get a principal part. Oh, look, it's my ego. But yeah, principal part would be nice. Any principal part.
Edit: Apparently my great grandmother once played the Fairy Queen, and my Grandfather was Sterphon. I think. I'm sure my dad also said some other male relative was once Mountararat, but he seems to have forgotten since last monday.
I was rather disappointed in this instance, because leaving aside relative quality of auditioners and my ego, to be Mountararat, given who played Tolloller, would have been just so great.
I mean, you can't tell me we wouldn't be perfect to play a double act who are clearly gay for each other. I mean, look:
(I love that photo)
Also, we were mouthing along to one of the romantic duets backstage, to each other. And something else I thought of while typing that last sentence and then forgot when I finished it. I rest my case.

Since, at the end, the Fairy Queen actually turns everyone into fairies, I've seen it pointed out that strictly speaking, the fairies haven't all married mortals, which under the newly revised law, means they must die. What I don't understand is why people are being this pedantic about Gilbert and Sullivan. Expecting the whole plot to make perfect sense upon careful examination seems to me to be completely missing the point. Strangely enough, it seems to me that a startling number of G&S enthusiasts are completely missing the point regarding a lot of things in the G&S shows.

What else... oh! Random point for those with an interest in G&S: This is the only show in which it  is explicitly stated that the entire cast get married at the end. Sorcerer and Patience it's the entire cast minus one person in each case. Pirates a couple of principals are left unspecified, though pairing them up is probably traditional or at least common. Otherwise, it's fairly standard to pair up your entire cast, but it's not specified by the script or stage directions.

I could start getting into even more details, but this post is already pretty damn long. And the only thing which springs to mind is the confusing directorial question of what the peers are supposed to be doing while Phyllis rejects them in two different songs and Tolloller sings about how being aristocratic isn't helping them at all. Of course, I can't help but feel that would have been helped a bit by some of the music being taken a bit faster...

Anyway, whatever, this post is long and I'm worried it'll be boring. I'm definitely going to try and think of something less long-winded for my next post.

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