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Private Willis

or The Peer and the Peri

A fairy opera in 2 acts: Music by Arthur Sullivan: Lyric and Libretto by W.S. Gilbert

Standard Theatre, New York - 25 November, 1882
Savoy Theatre, London - 25 November, 1882 (398 perfs)


(An Arcadian Landscape/Palace Yard, Westminster; between 1700 and 1882)

Twenty-five years after her banishment from Fairyland for marrying a mortal, a crime usually punishable by death, Iolanthe has been pardoned. She had a son by this illicit marriage, Strephon, who is, therefore, half mortal and half fairy. He is in love with Phyllis whom he is determined to marry. However, in order to do so he needs the consent of her guardian, the Lord Chancellor, who shows little enthusiasm for the idea of his ward marrying a mere shepherd.

When Strephon turns to his mother for comfort, Phyllis misinterprets their intimacy (as a fairy Iolanthe has not physically aged beyond a certain point) and, believing him to be unfaithful, she renounces her love for him. Although he protests that Iolanthe is his mother, his claims are met with derision by Phyllis and the peers (who are unaware of his parentage) and even the intervention of the Queen of the Fairies cannot persuade them otherwise. Furious at their attitude, she declares that Strephon will enter Parliament and will work to overthrow all the privileges enjoyed by the nobility, a job at which Strephon is successful.

However, he finds it no substitute for Phyllis and, with no further reason to conceal it, he reveals his fairy origins to her. This explains Iolanthe's apparent youth and the couple become re-engaged. At Strephon's request, Iolanthe puts their case to the Lord Chancellor, but has to disguise herself before doing so as, unbeknown to him, he is her mortal husband and she is forbidden to enlighten him under pain of death. Unfortunately, when he declares that he has decided to marry Phyllis himself, she is forced to reveal her true identity although this will mean forfeiting her life. However, when it emerges that the other fairies have committed the ultimate offence and married the peers (i.e. mortals), the Lord Chancellor suggests that the law be amended so that it is a crime for any fairy not to marry a mortal. The Queen happily selects a mortal for herself and invites the whole company to join her in Fairyland.


(Total number of books=21)

3 Violins 1 : 3 Violins II : 2 Violas : 2 Cellos : 1 Double Bass

: 1 Flute : 1 Oboe : 1 Clarinet : 1 Horn : 1 Trumpet : 1 Trombone : 1 Timpani : 1 Percussion : 1 Piano (optional - annotated vocal score) : 1 Full Score


Scenes and Settings

  • ACT I. — An Arcadian Landscape.
  • Act II. — Palace Yard, Westminster.

Date — between 1700 and 1882.


(plus Chorus)

PRIVATE WILLIS (of the Grenadier Guards)
STREPHON (an Arcadian Shepherd)
IOLANTHE (A Fairy, Strephon's Mother)



PHYLLIS (an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery)




  1. OPENING CHORUS OF FAIRIES, SOLI (Celia and Leila) - " Tripping hither, tripping thither "
  2. INVOCATION (Queen, Iolanthe, Celia, Leila, and Chorus of Fairies) - " Iolanthe from thy dark exile "
  3. SOLO (Strephon and Chorus of Fairies) - " Good-morrow, good mother "
  4. SOLO (Queen and Chorus of Fairies) - " Fare thee well, attractive stranger "
    4a.SOLI (Phyllis and Strephon) - " Good-morrow, good lover"
  5. DUET (Phyllis and Strephon) - " None shall part us "
  6. ENTRANCE & MARCH OF PEERS (Tenors and Basses) - " Loudly let the trumpet bray "
  7. SONG (Lord Chancellor and Chorus of Peers) - " The Law is the true embodiment "
  8. TRIO & CHORUS OF PEERS (Phyllis, Lord Tolloller, and Lord Mountararat) - " My well-loved Lord "
  9. RECIT. (Phyllis) - " Nay, tempt me not "
  10. CHORUS OF PEERS & SONG (Lord Tolloller) - " Spurn not the nob'y born "
  11. ENSEMBLE (Phyllis, Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, Strephon, Lord Chancellor, and Chorus of Peers) - " My Lords, it may not be "
  12. SONG (Lord Chancellor) - " When I went to the Bar "
  13. FINALE, ACT I. (Phyllis, lolanthe, Queen, Leila, Celia, Strephon, Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, Lord Chancellor, and Chorus of Fairies
    and Peers
    ) - " When darkly looms the day "
  14. SONG (Sentry) - " When all night long a chap remains "
  15. CHORUS OF FAIRIES & PEERS - " Strephon's a Member of Parliament "
  16. SONG (Lord Mountararat and Chorus) - " When Britain really ruled the waves "
  17. DUET (Leila, Celia, with Chorus of Fairies, Lord Mountararat, and Lord Tolloller) " In vain to us you plead "
  18. SONG (Queen, with Chorus of Fairies) - " Oh, foolish fay "
  19. QUARTET (Phyllis, Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, and Sentry) - " Tho' p'r'aps I may incur your blame "
  20. RECIT. & SONG (Lord Chancellor) - " Love unrequited robs me of my rest "
  21. TRIO (Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, and Lord Chancellor) - " He who shies at such a prize "
  22. DUET (Phyllis and Strephon) - " If we're weak enough to tarry "
  23. RECIT. & BALLAD (Iolanthe) - " My lord, a suppliant at your feet "
  24. RECIT. (lolanthe, Queen, Lord Chancellor,and Fairies) - " It may not be "
  25. FINALE (Phyllis, Iolanthe, Queen, Leila, Celia, Lord Tolloller, Lord Mountararat, Strephon, Lord Chancellor, and Chorus of Fairies and Peers) - " Soon as we may, off and away "

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