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1 June 1878

"Le meilleur est l'ennemi du bon." Without "The Sorcerer" we should have called Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's new work at the Opera Comique the cleverest and wittiest piece we have seen for many a year. As it is, everything suggests a comparison between the two works. Author and composer are the same, most of the previous singers reappear in the new piece, and the general efficiency of the performance indicates the same careful and painstaking management. If in the parallel we are about to draw we assign the place of "meilleur" to the earlier work we wish it to be understood that we do not use that term as synonymous with more successful. We believe, indeed, that the chances of great popularity are decidedly in favour of the good ship Pinafore. The fun is broader, the music more popular, the dresses are brighter and prettier, and the story is all about ships and sailors, an attraction which no good Briton can resist.

But intrinsic merit is, of course, a different matter. Let us first look at the drama. In "The Sorcerer" the characters are certainly comical to a degree, but they always remain strongly overdrawn types of reality. The silly Guardsman who stumps the country in the cause of humanity is by no means an absolute impossibility; and the amatory elderly Vicar might be met with in any country village, although the chances are that he would not be able to play the flageolet so admirably as Mr. Rutland Barrington used to do. But who has ever heard, or could under any circumstances imagine, a First Lord of the Admiralty visiting the fleet with a whole bevy of tuneful "sisters, cousins, and aunts" and singing ballads to the sailors in this fashion? —

"When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
  I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
    CHORUS. — He polished, &c."

This is not only impossible, but not even the caricature, however distorted, of any possibility. And in the same measure as Mr. Gilbert abandons truth, he is compelled to rely more and more upon whimsical turns of word and action. He is, to use a well-worn distinction, which admirably illustrates the difference, as witty as ever, but he no longer possesses the higher quality of humour.

Of Mr. Sullivan's setting we can conscientiously say that it does full justice to the subject so far as that subject will permit. There are in it many admirable points of subdued humour which never take the form of screaming farce, and are all the more effective for that reason. That Mr. Sullivan is an accomplished musician and a tuneful composer is generally known, and, if it were not, the finale of the first act and several charming airs and concerted pieces in this opera would prove the fact. We have indeed no doubt, as we said before, that to the popular ear there are more "catching" tunes in this work than in the "Sorcerer." But there is nothing to be compared with the admirable overture of the former work, or with the graceful bit of eighteenth century music to which the Lady Sangazure is wooed and won.

We must close our parallel as we come to speak of the performance. Mr. Rutland Barrington was an excellent Dr. Daly; but he is as excellent and almost as unctuous as Captain Corcoran. Mr. Grossmith's Right Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., First Lord of the Admiralty, is equally good, and the admirers of Miss Everard's pew opener will be glad to renew their acquaintance with that lady in the character of Little Buttercup. Mr. R. Temple's Dick Deadeye also deserves favourable mention. The two new comers of the cast Mr. Power (Ralph Rackstraw) and Miss E. Howson (Josephine) are decided improvements upon their predecessors. Miss Howson is a graceful actress, and her soprano voice is as sympathetic as it is bright. A little more training will make an accomplished singer of this lady.


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