Did you know...? Iolanthe illuminated

Did you know that Gilbert and Sullivan's 'fairy opera' Iolanthe was the first production to be illuminated entirely with electric lights - hence the term 'fairy lights'? Here are some fascinating facts about Iolanthe which will be semi-staged in concert here next Saturday, find out more.

  • Iolanthe premiered at the newly-built Savoy Theatre in 1882 and was the first theatre production in the world to be illuminated entirely with electric lights.
  • New lighting technologies made special effects possible for the first time. The principal fairies wore wreaths in their hair of small illuminated stars, which have been known as ‘fairy lights’ ever since.
  • Iolanthe’s sub-title is ‘The Peer and the Peri’. In Persian mythology, a Peri is a mythical superhuman being, originally represented as evil but subsequently as a good or graceful genie.
  • The characters of Strephon and Phyllis are described as Arcadian shepherds. Arcadia was a legendary site of rural perfection, first described by the Ancient Greeks and popular with 19th century writers.
  • Much of Sullivan’s 'fairy' music pays homage to Mendelssohn’s famous music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, while the Fairy Queen's music also parodies that of Wagnerian heroines such as Brünnhilde.
  • Iolanthe had a successful initial run in London of 398 performances and was Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourth consecutive hit. Gilbert designed the costumes himself.
  • Sullivan had intended to resign from his partnership with Gilbert after Iolanthe, considering it frivolous and beneath his skills. But on the day of its premiere, he learned that his broker had lost the bulk of his fortune. Since Sullivan was helping to support his late brother's large family,as well as that of his mistress, he concluded that the only certain way to restore his financial security was to continue writing Savoy operas.
  • The eponymous hero of David Nobbs' The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin has "Iolanthe" as a middle name, allegedly due to his being born during a performance of the opera.
Gilbert And Sullivan.