Last weekend saw the beginning of the 28th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival.
We planned two performances this year: Iolanthe and Utopia, Ltd.
Iolanthe is always a firm favourite and this year's performance was even slicker and more visually appealing than ever. The cast was fantastic and the principal performers outstanding.
It was wonderful to be in an almost full Opera House, enjoying Iolanthe with so many other G & S fans. I'm sure our cheers and clapping were even more enthusiastic than usual, after the last couple of years.
I love the humour of Iolanthe and enjoy that Gilbert targeted the aristocracy and political officials for satiric treatment; the House of Lords is lampooned as a bastion of the ineffective, privileged and dim-witted, whose only qualification to govern is noble birth. The political party system, the law and other institutions also come in for a dose of satire. Throughout Iolanthe, however, both author and composer managed to couch the criticism among such bouncy, amiable absurdities and "splendid pageantry" that it is all received as good humour, with Prime Minister Gladstone complimenting the opera's good taste. With our current political shenanigans, the opera seemed particularly pertinent!
Utopia, Ltd is one of the least performed operas, and a favourite of mine. I particularly enjoy that the libretto satirises limited liability companies, and particularly the idea that a bankrupt company could leave creditors unpaid without any liability on the part of its owners. It also lampoons the Joint Stock Company Act by imagining the absurd convergence of natural persons, or sovereign nations, with legal commercial entities under the limited companies laws. In addition, it mocks the conceits of the late 19th-century British Empire and several of the nation's beloved institutions. In mocking the adoption by a "barbaric" country of the cultural values of an "advanced" nation, it takes a tilt at the cultural aspects of imperialism.
In this far-off kingdom English ideas are aped and exaggerated, and shown up as idiotic. English manners, English institutions, English customs are all shown us through this distorting lens. Girls behave prudishly, commerce takes over the island, ceremonial is paramount.
An excellent Festival this year and, an added bonus for me, all the other performances are being streamed. So, I'll be able to watch a few other operas without driving to Buxton or Harrogate.