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Larry Littany Litt


Iolanthe or The Peer and the Peri

Music by Arthur Sullivan
Words by W.S. Gilbert
Stage Director/Producer Benjamin Spierman
Presented by The Bronx Opera Company
Conductors: Michael Spierman and Eric Kramer
Chorus Master Michael C. Haigler
Lovinger Theatre at Lehman CollegeTo May 18, 2024
Reviewed May 11, 2024 by Larry Littany Litt

The 32 piece orchestra is onstage, tuning up behind the now open gaping black maw of the revealed orchestra pit. Quite unusual for an opera. Bejamin Spierman comes onstage, sits at the edge of the pit and confesses (I’m paraphrasing his words and intent) that this production is not all it could be. All that the Bronx Opera designers and prop people and costumers wanted it to be. Both New York City and New York State, he explained, have cut funding for culture activities across the spectrum of the arts. Meaning all small and large instititions were sent scurrying for funds to produce their programs. Naturally the large ones have their individual donors and foundation support. But smaller ones like the Bronx Opera are having a much harder time keeping programs afloat the way we want them. And we want them to be great. So here’s our modified version of Iolanthe. The singers will use the stage, the orchestra and the audience as they tell the story you came to see. Without the props and costumes we had imagined and planned. The show must go on.

With that sad statement on the culture of our times, the actress playing Iolanthe is lowered down into the orchstra pit’s gloomy darkness and the opera begins.

Because the plot is quite complicated and very British here’s a brief summary from Wikipedia: “Iolanthe; or, The Peer and the Peri is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, was first performed in 1882. In the opera, the fairy Iolanthe has been banished from fairyland because she married a mortal; a mortal sin forbidden by fairy law. Her son, Strephon, is an Arcadian shepherd who wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Lord Chancery. All the members of the House of Peers also want to marry Phyllis. When Phyllis sees Strephon hugging a young woman (not knowing that it is his mother – immortal fairies all appear young), she assumes the worst and sets off a climactic confrontation between the peers and the fairies. The opera satirises many aspects of British government, law and society. The confrontation between the fairies and the peers is a fantastical version of one of Gilbert's favourite themes: a tranquil civilisation of women is disrupted by a male-dominated world through the discovery of mortal love.”

Bronx Opera under the leadership of Michael and Benjamin Spierman have done the opera world a great favor. They have succeeded in producing an opera without all the creative props and costumes that are usual for these spectacles. Instead they provide the audience with excellent singers. musicians and fun stage movement of both fairies and peers of the realm.

Baritone William Remmers plays the love lorn, duplicitous Lord Chancellor. He is worthy of a major motion picture contract as he has the butterfly aspect body movements of Rowland Atkinson,better known as Mr. Bean. The difference is that Remmers can sing the witty and very difficult lyrics of Gilbert’s maddening fast paced poetry. During “Love unrequited robs me of my rest,” Remmers shows us he’s capapble of high comedy with subtle movement in his dreams. in this he is the personification of ‘comic opera.’

Our pastoral heroine Phyllis is brought to a modest looking but forceful stage life by soprano Barbee Monk. She sings with love stricken grace until she decides not to marry Strephon. Suddeny she doesn’t care. Her tone changes and we understand the fickleness of young love. She casts Strephon away and becomes the object of desire of the entire Parliamentary House of Peers.

Contralto Miatasha Gonzalez-Colon as the Fairie Queen has a strict command over her followers. She imperiously rules and glamorizes the company. She has dictated that no Fairies may marry a human. That’s the reason Iolanthe has been relegated to the glum orchestra pit. And yet Iolanthe is needed in fairyland onec again.

I would love to write much more about the twists and turns of the complicated plot and about the entire superb cast and orchestra but unfortunately I don’t have the room here. The Bronx Opera presents a shining example for anyone who wants to see what creative New Yorkers, both onstage and behind, can do under extreme financial duress. I hope they get their funding soon. They deserve it. We the public want more opera in the Bronx.



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