Savoy Theatre, Strand, London
Iolanthe opened at the Savoy on 25th November 1882. A great deal of confusion surrounds the title of the fairy operetta. Until a few days before the opening night it was called ‘Perola’ but it is evident from a letter of Gilbert’s to Carte, dated 13th October, that he wanted to call the new piece ‘Iolanthe’.
On opening night, a copy of the libretto was distributed to the audience and, as it was not possible to dim the lights to the extent it is now, there was sufficient light to read easily.
“Everyone was provided with a book and was so fascinated that they scarcely looked at the stage. When the time came for a page-turn, there was the rustling as of the leaves in a mighty forest. The audience followed the book as if it was the inspired oracles of Delphi and such roars of laughter were never heard before.” The critics were as enthusiastic as the first nighters, though Vanity Fair found “the music decidedly superior to the libretto.”
The electric star lights which the principal fairies wore on top of their heads aroused much excitement. Some thought they were too dazzling and a shade distracting. The incandescent star lights, made by the Swan United Electric Light Company, were worked by a small battery carried on the shoulder and hidden by the fairies’ long flowing hair. The term ‘fairy lights’ has been in common usage ever since.
Iolanthe ran at the Savoy until 1st January 1884.