The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Savoyards celebrates 50 years of staging Gilbert and Sullivan with an encore production of “Iolanthe” that opens this Friday and Saturday nights at UW-Madison Music Hall. | July 16, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s summer, so it must be time for another production of a Gilbert and Sullivan satirical operetta by the Madison Savoyards.

The venerable and veteran local group, which relies on gifted amateur talent, started in 1963 with the operetta “Iolanthe.”

So what better way to make the 50th anniversary, and the 51st season, than by staging another updated production of “Iolanthe.”

Iolanthe poster.web

The production this summer will be staged in Music Hall (below), at the foot of Bascom Hill on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus – a kind of fitting and time-appropriate setting. It has been the usual venue for the Savoyards since 2002, after the shows moved form the Wisconsin Union Theater.


The production starts this weekend on this coming Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.; the final four performances with be on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (July 25-28) at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday July 29 at 3 p.m.

One of the many encouraging things to like about the Madison Savoyards – which seems to have survived the Great Recession in excellent shape — is how organized the troupe (seen below in a recent production of “Utopia Limited”) has become in terms of using electronic media.


The home website is a model of how to be both informative and entertaining. It has links to the Savoyard’s’ YouTube channel that has a lot of video and audio clips, especially from last summer’s acclaimed production of the popular “Pirates of Penzance.”

You will also find links to information about tickets; about reviews and recordings; about the pre-concert dinners on Friday nights; about the history of the Savoyards; and of course about the plot of “Iolanthe.’

Here is a link to the Savoyards’ website:

And here is a link to the Savoyards’ YouTube channel with lots of fine videos:

What is the secret to the perennial popularity of the musical theater created by Gilbert and Sullivan (below) that has survived and prospered ever since the time of Queen Victoria? 

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

Is it the absurd plots? The generally sympathetic characters with all their human foibles? The clever lyrics, as exemplified in the lickety-split, tongue-twistingly witty patter songs? The tuneful and easy-to-digest music? The trials and tribulations we all eternally endure through bureaucracy and the well-intended mistakes of officialdom? The biting political satire that can be updated, as in the YouTube video at the bottom?

It is probably all of that and more, at least when you look at the wide spectrums of ages and personalities that make up devoted “G&S” fans.

What message do you want to leave the Madison Savoyards on marking 50 years?

Why do you like G&S? And what is your favorite G&S operetta?

The Ear wants to hear.

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