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Theatre costume

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1977 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Santini, Bruno (costume designer)
    David Garrett (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, paper, wire, cotton lace, sequins, russia braid and paint

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 25 years on the throne. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company contributed to the festivities by staging a Silver Jubilee Season at Sadler's Wells, the highlight being a new production of Iolanthe with silver-themed designs by Bruno Santini. Gilbert and Sullivan's 1882 Savoy opera mocks the House of Lords within a tale of fairy folk and mortals who struggle with a typically Gilbertian plot contrivance that impedes the course of true love. Sullivan's music incorporates references to contemporary Grand Opera and the first production presented the Queen of the Fairies as a substantial lady in a breastplate and Wagnerian helmet, whose claim to have swung upon on a cobweb was amusingly unlikely. Subsequent productions have maintained this tradition by making the Queen into a parody of Brünnhilde who carries a long wand like a Valkyrie's spear.

Reviewers of the 1977 production were slightly disappointed that the Fairy Queen was, in the words of the Financial Times critic, 'trim of appearance, prettily dressed and not at all ridiculous'. Her elaborate silver and black costume, which is also held by the V&A Theatre Collections, consists of a sequined bodice, a multi-layered skirt and a voluminous cloak, all designed to shimmer under the stage lights. Santini gave the fairies the tiny wings of the Victorian imagination. The fairy chorus wore traditional rounded wings but the Queen's were made of wire shapes resembling flames, and similar shapes were used in the high wired collar of her cloak and again in the head of the wand, where they form a 'lotus' shape. The cotton lace fabric that covers the individual 'flames' of the wand is the same as that of the wings and the collar and was also used to make the sleeves and the top layer of the skirt, thus creating a strong consistent image for a strong character.

Physical description

Full length fairy wand, the handle of black painted wood, around which at intervals are wide bands of iridescent faceted paper. The head of the wand in the form of a 'lotus', made of individual wired 'flame' shapes over which are stretched black cotton lace woven with a diaper pattern in silver Lurex, scattered with silver and black faceted sequins. Each flame outlined in silver russia braid.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1977 (made)


Santini, Bruno (costume designer)
David Garrett (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, paper, wire, cotton lace, sequins, russia braid and paint


Height: 207 cm, Circumference: 23 cm approx., head of wand

Object history note

This wand was carried by the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, Iolanthe, directed by Michael Heyland for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1977. The production opened at Sadler's Wells Theatre and then toured Britain and America. Patricia Leonard was the Queen in the opening performances and the role was later taken by Elizabeth Denham and Jill Pert.

The costume for the Queen of the Fairies is also held by the V&A Theatre Collections (S.348&A to I -1985).

Descriptive line

Wand carried by the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Iolanthe, D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1977, designed by Bruno Santini


Wood; Paper; Wire; Lace; Sequins; Russia braid; Paint




Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

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