By Kevin T. Baldwin
“I don't want to say a word against brains. I've a great respect for brains. I often wish I had some myself..."
- ("Lord Mountararat") / Gilbert and Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Stage Director: Ted Blaisdell
Music Director: Aldo Fabrizi
Cast Includes: Thom Griffin as “Chancellor”; Matt Roehrig as “Lord Mountararat”; Charlie Berrios as “Lord Tolloller”; Michael Gonzalez as “Strephon”; Robin Parsons as “Private Willis”; Kathy Blaisdell as “Fairy Queen”; Elizabeth Neill as “Iolanthe”; Elaine Crane as “Phyllis”; Donna Griffin as “Celia”; Heather Williams as “Leila”; Cassidy Pawul as “Fleta”
Fairies: Ekua Ampiah-Bonney, Lisa Amato, Elysse Link, Mae Philippe-Auguste, Tara McKenna, Nina Fischer, Adriana Morelli, Amy Schrom, Amanda Seymour, Nina Pollard, Nicole Wetherell, Romy Negrin.
Peers: Richmond Ampiah-Bonney, Steven Williams, Thomas Klansek, Gordon Freed, David Mix Barrington, Kevin Cox, Paul Peelle, Mark McMenamin, Zachery Varricchione, James Kitchen, William Tobey.
Additional Creative Team:
Costumes Co-Heads - Phyllis Jordan, Dianna McMenamin; Technical Director - Steve Atkinson; Set Designer - T.R. Rosenberg; Master Carpenter - Steve Morgan; Technical Painter - Chris Riddle
November 3, 2023 through November 12, 2023
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
Tickets will be available from the Academy of Music box office on-line, by telephone, by e-mail, in person, or even by mail.
413-584-9032 x 105
Box office hours: Tuesday-Friday 3pm-6pm, and one hour before each performance.
To be held at the Academy of Music, 274 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060
COVID 19 PROTOCOLS
Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.
Valley Light Opera (VLO) presents a wonderfully visceral production of “IOLANTHE (OR, THE PEER AND THE PERI)” quite possibly one of the most eccentric and wittiest of all the 14 operatic collaborations of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The comic opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, made its debut in London back in 1882, running for 398 performances.
Now, 141 years later, some of the political satire expressed in “IOLANTHE" still might resonate with more than a few in the audience – even those unfamiliar with London’s Parliament.
As the story begins, after an astonishing Overture conducted by the show’s music director, Aldo Fabrizi, a multitude of illuminated fairies take to the stage.
(This writer suggests pausing for any giggling to subside…)
Right out of the gate, it is quite noticeable how costuming for this latest VLO show is done resplendently creatively, and in a vibrantly colorful way to help heighten the overall eccentricity of the opera’s plot.
The far out "fairy" costumes in the VLO production look like they were dipped in some of Cyndi Lauper’s 80s hair dye.
Meanwhile, the more grandiose costumes for the "regal" male members of the cast (making up the "Chorus of Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts and Barons") fluctuated from basic tuxedoes to every single back-up costume for the “King George” character swiped from the closet of the musical “Hamilton.”
And they all worked beautifully to accentuate the G&S story.
Scenic background projections utilized in the show in conjunction with impressively designed set pieces were absolutely gorgeous.
Fairy "IOLANTHE" (Buff Neill) was banished from “Fairyland” (that’s the name) because she married a mortal.
What mortal, you might wonder? Well, you won't wonder for long if you pay attention. Heck - even if you don't, it is pretty easy to figure out.
However, by decree, this union was forbidden by fairy law. Now, "IOLANTHE" finds herself with an adult son and her son informs her of his intent to take a bride.
(Photo: Thom Griffin as the “Lord Chancellor” and Kathy Blaisdell as the “Fairy Queen” in a scene from "IOLANTHE" by Gilbert and Sullivan from Valley Light Opera at the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit: Jason Lamb Photography)
Strephon (Brad Amidon), son of "IOLANTHE," is an Arcadian shepherd who seeks to marry Phyllis (Elaine Crane), a ward of the Chancery.
Both Amidon and Crane are fluent at the absurdist comedic timing used in most of their exchanges.
However, poor half-mortal/half fairy Strephon (we won’t divulge which half is which) has competition as it seems all the members of the “House of Peers” also want to marry Phyllis, including the Lord Chancellor (Thom Griffin) himself.
Griffin excels as the "Lord Chancellor," especially in the show's "patter" song "Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest."
Also seeking her hand are the comical duo Lord Mountararat (Matt Roehrig) and Lord Tolloller (Charlie Berrios) who delightfully banter back and forth like the gentlemen they are, even though, later we see them at odds as they try to determine who among them should "wind up" with Phyllis.
(Photo: Kathy Blaisdell as the “Fairy Queen” bookended by two of her "Fairies" in a scene from "IOLANTHE" by Gilbert and Sullivan from Valley Light Opera at the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA. through November 12, 2023. Photo Credit: Jason Lamb Photography)
Earlier, when Phyllis sees Strephon embracing "IOLANTHE" she assumes it is romantic culminating in a clash between the “Peers” and the “Fairies.”
This highlights one of the show’s more “forward-thinking” elements (especially for 1882) as all the female protagonists, contending with a male-dominated society with male-structured laws, decide to turn everything on its ear.
All the performers are superb, accomplished vocalists who bring a lovely comedic flair to the material - and the overall staging by director Ted Blaisdell is simply terrific.
Especially noticeable in the impeccably crafted VLO show is Mary Ann Holmes’ elevated level of choreography, not a common attribute one might associate with this particular Gilbert and Sullivan opera.
The show does not shy away from satirizing government, particularly British government.
While it isn't clear how G&S came up with the delightfully preposterous concept of fairies infiltrating London, in this latest VLO production, it might be easier to accept the overall fantasy concept of fairies than accepting the purported ages of some of the show's more "youthful" characters.
However, as soon as you suspend disbelief, "IOLANTHE" is a thoroughly charming opera, elevated by some marvelous supporting performances which include Kathy Blaisdell as "Queen of the Fairies" and her fairies Celia (Donna Griffin), Leila (Heather Williams) and Fleta (Cassidy Pawul).
Other performances worthy of note include Robin Parson as Royal guardsman "Private Willis" and Lew Jordan as "Captain Shaw."
It also cannot be overstated the sensational contribution made by one of the finest live orchestras to play in this area.
A massive collective effort was made by the entire VLO cast, orchestra and creative team to make this production as viscerally pleasing and incredibly funny as it is.
Audiences shall have one more opportunity to view "IOLANTHE" which continues today in Northampton at the Academy of Music.
Then, after this November 12th, "soon as we may, off and away."
Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
In "IOLANTHE" (or "The Peer and the Peri") Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. Phyllis does not know that Strephon is half fairy (his upper half — his legs are mortal!) and when she sees Strephon kissing a seemingly young woman, she assumes the worst.
But her "rival" turns out to be none other than Strephon's own mother, "IOLANTHE", a fairy — fairies never grow old.
But Phyllis' guardian, the Lord Chancellor, and half the peers in the House of Lords are sighing after her.
Soon the peers and the fairies are virtually at war, and long friendships are nearly torn asunder.
"IOLANTHE" opened in 1882, three nights after the final performance of Patience at the same theatre, and ran for 398 performances.
Gilbert had taken pot shots at the aristocracy before, but in this "fairy opera," the House of Lords is lampooned as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted.
The political party system and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire.
Yet, both author and composer managed to couch the criticism among such bouncy, amiable absurdities that it is all received as good fun.
Both Gilbert and Sullivan were at the height of their creative powers in 1882, and many people feel that "IOLANTHE", their seventh work together, is the most perfect of their collaborations.(gsarchive.net)
ABOUT VALLEY LIGHT OPERA
THE VALLEY LIGHT OPERA, Inc., is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization based in Amherst, Massachusetts. Founded in 1975 by a group of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees, the VLO presents a fully-staged opera every fall at the Academy of Music in Northampton, with less formal productions each spring.
PO Box 2143
Amherst MA. 01004-2143