Princess Ida has forsworn men and set up a women only university at Castle Adamant. Her childhood betrothed, Prince Hilarion, is determined not to be denied his ‘right’. He enters the University in disguise with two friends. What follows is a series of inter-sex machinations as each camp attempts to settle matters in their favour.
Sullivan produced some of his most sublime music in this opera, including the so-called ‘string of pearls’ in Act II featuring the exquisite quartet ‘The world is but a broken toy’.
This alternate reality is, of course, a thinly disguised Britain in the grip of social upheaval. Based on Tennyson’s notably progressive poem ‘The Princess’, Gilbert’s plot sits against the backdrop of the emerging women’s rights movement and advances in women’s education. Liberal and conservative causes were both considered fair targets for the writer’s satire, raising interesting questions for us as time travellers encountering the work.