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The Libretto


4.1 A Lousy Proof-reader
4.2 Location
4.3 Those Gawdawful Accents
4.4 Class Satire
4.5 Wells' Speech
4.6 Many Loves of Alexis
4.7 From Banquet to Brunch

4.1 A Lousy Proof-reader

Andrew Crowther wrote Someone said not long ago that Gilbert must have been a lousy proof-reader, and I have to agree. The "authorized" libretti and play texts are full of mistakes and anomalies. Now when Gilbert revised Sorcerer for the 1884 revival he changed Act 2 so that it took place at midnight, rather than in daytime shortly after Act 1. But he forgot to make all the necessary alterations now that Act 2 followed Act 1 by 12 hours rather than half an hour. I don't believe he ever did anything with the words of JWW, Alexis and Aline in the Act 1 Finale: "Their hearts will melt/In half-an-hour - /Then will be felt/The potion's power!" Has anyone ever corrected this to make it fit? The best solution I can think of is: "Their hearts will melt/At midnight's hour" - but I don't know if that "sings" well. Probably the audience would be murmuring to each other: "What was that? Midnight sour?"

Ted Rice suggested: How about:

In half an hour, Their hearts will melt
It's twelve hours late, but "What the hell ?"

And Ken Chambers: As an old Equity draftsman, I suggest that the deletion of a single letter will do it. Let it stand: "at midnight hour." This is not likely to be mistaken by the audience as "at midnight tower" (unless the set happens to include a highly visible tower on Sir Marmaduke's mansion, that is.)

Then Clive Woods: A small point, but surely the mistakes and anomalies are really a result of poor final revisions than of poor proofing? Poor proofing would lead to spelling mistakes and odd omitted and extraneous words and phrases in the first editions, but the anomalies in the plots betray hurried revisions with scant regard for the consequences elsewhere. At proofing, it is too late to pick up errors in the plot; printers are reluctant to correct mistakes that are not their fault. (Engineers have long known that the smaller a design change appears at first sight, the greater will be the impact on the overall conception.) There are several instances in the canon where the libretto suddenly changes direction completely, for no reason, and I suspect the explanation is that a section of dialogue was cut or moved in the MS or draft MS with no attempt at fixing up the transitions before and after the surgery. These days, of course, a writer would use a WP and surgery can be disguised easily, but in "the good old days" a cut or move would be done with scissors and paste and the minor changes necessitated elsewhere would be done in handwriting. Even so, some howlers were let through in the G&S works. Maybe the reason for this was the pressure G&S were working under to get the libretto finished in time for opening night, but one might have thought that for a printing run it would have been revised more thoroughly.

4.2 Location

Paul McShane wrote: This question was raised back in the days of OOTW: Ruddigore. I am no Professor Henry Higgins, but I was always under the impression that the line "Eh, but oi du loike you" planted the villagers firmly in Cornwall, making Sorcerer the first of three Cornish G&S operas. However, others suggested that (a) it was a general West Country way of speaking by the lower classes - adding Devon and Somerset (plus Dorset?) to the list of possible counties, and even (b) it could be placed much further afield, in more remote parts of England. I don't think that we ever resolved the question, but having ploughed my way through ten of the eleven books in Winston Graham's excellent Poldark series (set in Cornwall in Napoleonic times), I still vote for Ploverleigh being in Cornwall - perhaps on the outskirts of Truro. It's a long trip down for Mr. Wells (I suppose Simmery Axe is in London), but I suppose the trains were running to Cornwall in those days. And speaking of Mr. Wells' London environment, perhaps somebody with answers oracular would care to explains the phenomena of rolling down One Tree Hill (which is the name of a street in Singapore, of all places) and/or going to Rosherville.

David Duffey replied: For One Tree Hill, Dunn notes: "A hill in Greenwich Park which was often 'rolled down' in the days of Greenwich Fair.". Rosherville Gardens, near Gravesend in Kent was a "popular pleasaunce", the "place to spend a happy day". The question raises another instance of difference between published libretto and vocal score. The libretto has, "I spend the day at Rosherville", but the VS - and as sung on at least three DOC recordings, "I sometimes go to Rosherville". And Philip Sternenberg: If Higgins were present, would the villagers sing, "Wouldn't It Be Ploverleigh"?

And Gerry Howe: This 'general West Country" etc. is known as Mummerset; actually, a Devonshire, a Cornish and a Somerset accent are quite distinct; an expert would distinguish between different parts of each county. The majority of village names ending in -leigh are in Devonshire. Bearing in mind that historically Cornwall was a separate country with its own language (similar to both Welsh and Breton) one would expect the place names to be - as they are - different to those east of the border. Simmery Axe is St Mary Axe, a street in East London connecting Leadenhall Street with Houndsditch - no great distance from the Tower. (St Mary becomes "Simmery" in much the same way as St John becomes "Sinjun"). Dickens enthusiasts may like to note that Bevis Marks is a turning off St Mary Axe!

4.3 Those Gawdawful Accents

Rica Mendes wrote: One thing that bugs me about Sorcerer is that in Act II, there is clear evidence of class distinctions VOCALLY (due to the accents). But I get the impression that, since the lyrics don't dictate an accent, that in Act I, the accents are not sung. Is anyone else bothered by that inconsistency? I didn't hear any accents sung in Act I in Berkeley, nor did I hear any on the recording, until that one Act II number. It appears that not only did the potion cause everyone to pass out and fall in love, but to slip into gawdawful accents as well - but only as a temporary symptom! Thoughts?

Gwyn Aubrey replied: I thought perhaps that in the first act, everyone is on "best behaviour", watching manners, dress, and accents. At the beginning of act 2, everyone has slept outside in their clothes and have been suddenly woken up, thus causing them to have the worst behaviour and manners (and accents) possible. Ronald Orenstein replied: Remember that originally none of this happened. The "Why, where be oi" chorus was added for the 1884 revival - so accents could hardly have been part of WSG's original plan.

Donald Bartholomew replied: Well, first of all, Rica Dearest, they are not "gawdawful" accents. They are attempts at regional "common" accents. And, in fact, the only place in the canon where an accent is written into a work. Secondly, that is a remarkably "stiff jorum of tea" what with the lacing given it by JWW and his friends of the night. It seems "logical" that, if it causes one to lose one's inhibitions, then surface manners are also wiped out and everyone loses that thin veneer of taste and civilization. A literary precursor of "Lord of the Flies" perhaps? To which Gerry Howe replied: On the other hand, it is surely a feature of Gilbertian topsy-turveydom that characters who, by their occupation, would be presumed to be lower class, still speak with precise diction and an almost scholarly choice of words. Ralph's "irreconcilable antagonisms" speech is a case in point. Having what I can only call the great good fortune to reside in the North-West of England, I often wonder if amateur companies would be better off using a local accent rather than the "Mummerset" usually employed for, say, the Bo'sun or the villagers of Ploverleigh. Personally, I would rather hear a genuine broad Cheshire accent than a badly faked West country or cockney.

4.4 Class Satire

Lisa Berglund wrote: SavoyNet has, I believe, touched on this topic occasionally, but I thought I would introduce it more formally: what do you make of the fact that The Sorcerer and HMS Pinafore, which appear early and consecutively from Gilbert's pen, satirize England's class system to a degree unmatched in his later collaborations with Sullivan?

Wells embodies a tradesman class proud to be what it is; he also serves to reproach a society that values a foolish Alexis more than it does a respectable tradesman. Wells' sacrifice restores order in a way many of us find discomfiting (would original audiences have agreed?). I find it striking that Gilbert even proposed sacrificing Alexis (esp. in the original Ahrimanes scene); he certainly makes the choice of Ploverleigh explicit--though in a sense, I suppose, they're just ganging up on the outsider. Wells's banishment reminds me of the rejection of Deadeye in Pinafore. Deadeye is, of course, the unwelcome truth teller so, in a way, is Wells. Deadeye exposes the absurdity of Sir Joseph's definition of equality much as Wells, through the agency of the potion, shows Alexis what happens when love levels all ranks. The fact that the sailors cry "Shame! Shame!" or that Alexis never exhibits any brain function doesn't mean WE don't understand the truth of Deadeye or the decency of Wells. The love philtre and the baby switching emphasize the artificiality of class, and confirm that class is on the one hand external to identity and yet at the same time constitutes one's entire identity.

This point is particularly brought home if Corcoran and Rackstraw trade accents as well as clothes. It struck me that, in evolving the "outsider" from Wells to Deadeye, Gilbert moved to make more explicit his critique of the ingenuousness (at best) and hypocrisy (at worst) of a society that celebrated the worth of the individual on the one hand and the sanctity of a caste system on the other. Nothing in Sorcerer is as potentially savage as "He is an English- man" or as explicitly savage as Deadeye's Cassandran pronouncements. On the other hand, I find Sorcerer much more disquieting, perhaps because the final pairings-off do not resolve audience tension as do the couplings at the end of Pinafore. Anyway, I wonder why Gilbert abandoned the topic, and relegated future jibes against the class to subordinate places in his operas. Comments? Disagreements?

To which Andrew Crowther replied: I found Lisa's comments on this very interesting and perceptive - particularly about "outsiders". I ought to mention here that one of the Big Ideas in my Gilbert thesis (now near completion) springs out of this exact area of discussion. I'd better not say anything more about that. But on the more general issue of why the later libretti don't satirise class etc. to the same extent (which I think is true): I believe there's a definite split between "early Gilbert" and "late Gilbert" - the division taking place round about 1880. Early Gilbert tends to have an edge, a kind of vibrant spikiness, which late Gilbert tends to smooth out. His libretti gradually acquired more polish and sophistication, but at the same time lost a lot of the sense of spontaneity. The Gondoliers tackles some of the issues of class which he had dealt with earlier in Sorcerer and Pinafore - but in a much "safer" way, without any real sense of tackling a live issue.

Gilbert started out as a writer in the 1860s, living a slightly rackety bohemian life, perhaps not ever desperately short of money, but at any rate directly aware of the economic necessities. As the years progressed, he began to earn a solid living as a playwright and he went up in the world. He was certainly quite comfortably off by the time of Pinafore. But that was the opera that sent his fame right into orbit. I don't know the precise financial facts of this, but I think it's reasonable to say that he began earning serious money at this point, and through the 1880s he moved up in the world, almost to the giddy heights of "high society". He became more and more comfortable. Is it any surprise that he began less interested in satirising the inequalities of the class system? This line of argument is beginning to make the later Gilbert sound like some sort of superfatted capitalist, which he certainly was not. And I don't want to leave the impression that he "sold out" or somehow deserted his principles when he became rich. He remained the same contrary old curmudgeon to the end of his days, and Utopia Limited certainly doesn't suggest that he had permanently lost his edge. I'm talking about a shift of emphasis rather than some sort of absolute switch over from one extreme to the other.

To which Neil Midkiff responded: One graphic way of seeing this difference is to compare the original woodblock cuts that Gilbert drew for the Bab Ballads to the later illustrations he made for the 1898 collection "The Bab Ballads/with which are included/ Songs of a Savoyard" (reprinted many times). The easiest source for the originals is the edition of the Ballads edited by James Ellis (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1970/1980); in the introduction of that volume (p.27) Ellis opines: The worst feature of this [1898] volume was not the mixture of ballads and lyrics but the decision by the author, now twice as old, fifty times wealthier, and a hundred times more respectable than when he wrote for Fun, to replace the original wood-block illustrations with a set of finer line drawings. Ellis quotes the introduction Gilbert wrote for the 1898 collection:

"I have always felt that many of the original illustrations...erred gravely in the direction of unnecessary extravagance. This defect I have endeavored to correct through the medium of the two hundred new drawings which I have designed for this volume. I am afraid I cannot claim for them any other recommendation."

Gilbert's early wood-cuts were fantastically caricatured, with odd body proportions and grotesque expressions and poses, yet (as Ellis notes) "crammed into carefully drawn costumes of convincing and authentic design" giving a weird mixture of fancy and reality to the drawings. I don't expect that Andrew Crowther was actually thinking of the original Bab drawings when he described the "vibrant spikiness" of WSG's early work, but the phrase fits the art as well as the text. J Donald Smith replied: In other words, it became: "...the rapier, not the bludgeon..." Same criticisms of class, more subtly put.

Diana Burleigh observed: While agreeing with Anthony Crowther that as Gilbert ascended the ladder he held back on his class satire, I think he may also have been influenced by Sullivan who was much more inclined to mingle with the nobility and would have more to lose if he were associated with too trenchant criticism of them. Some things to consider: Alexis's delusions of love unregulated by class are shattered when he confronts his father's engagement to Mrs. Partlet. Yet we're not encouraged to think that such matches are appropriate, even as we sympathize with Wells, who has to put up with Alexis's cruel and thoughtless snobbery.

4.5 Wells' Speech

Louis Wernick wrote: One thing which seems to show Sorcerer as a relatively early G&S work is the apparent lack of balance between dialogue, orchestral recitative and musical set piece prior to the patter song of J. Wellington Wells. It seems as if the length of dialogue preceding Well's patter song is simply not expected from those familiar with Trial By Jury (which has no dialogue at all) or simply following the first half of act one for the first time (where dialogue is at a minimum up to this particular section. The orchestral recitative between Constance and Mrs. Partlett also seems to be "sort of stuck in" between the village scenes. I have seen a production which may not have been faithful to the librettist and composer's intent but which worked quite well. Here, all the village scenes were "stacked" before the Constance-Mrs. Partlett scene. That is, Dr. Daly had his entrance song before we knew what Constance had to say about him, Aline entered in a "decorated wedding cake dress" for her opening song before Constance and Mrs. Partlett revealed themselves, etc.. Whether or not purists wish to do this is personal, but IMHO, it is only from Wells' patter song to the end that the operetta appears to be planned out to the extent of, say, Pinafore.

Philip Sternenberg replied: Good point. JWW's lengthy introductory speech before his patter song is extremely unusual. The song itself serves as sufficient introduction, and had Sorcerer been written later, JWW would probably have sung it immediately on entering.

On which Larry Byler observed: It's possible even today to relocate the long introductory speech to follow the song if anyone wanted to try. In that case, Wells' song would want to be addressed directly to the audience rather than A&A, which then raises the problem of what the latter are doing throughout. Maybe that's why I'm not a director :-). Lyric Theatre/GSSSJ has used this kind of minor relocation on at least two occasions (the only ones I can recall offhand): In Patience, following "So go to him and say to him", the three transfigured officers came on and engaged in their post-"Medieval art" dialog effective enough -- at a distance." The officers then sang the trio and continued with the rest of the dialog. In the 1985 Mikado, Pooh-Bah's line, "I don't want any lunch." served as the cue for "See how the fates their gifts allot". At the end, the orchestral tag was delayed while the Mikado gave his "I'm really very sorry for you all..." line. He and Katisha then exited during the tag.

And Henry Odum replied: Not necessarily - Yeomen comes to mind - Jack Point also gives a long spoken introduction into what he has to offer before musically elaborating with "I've Jibe and Joke". And now that I think of it, he also gives his long "Hands off" speech, immediately followed by the list of entertainment he & Elsie can provide before we hear them sing... But then I guess as two working class fellows trying to make a buck (as t'were), they've got a lot of information about themselves to share with you! (... and in the end, both working class fellows arguably suffer somewhat similar fates...) I realize it was very unclear who I meant by "two working class fellows". I meant JP and JWW - not JP & EM!

4.6 Many Loves of Alexis

Tom Shepard wrote: So, I decided to look at Alexis's aria "Love feeds on many kinds of food..."in order to count up the number of times the word "love" or one of its derivations is used.

The poem has sixteen lines. Here goes.

1. 1 love 2. 1 love 3. 0 4. 1 love 5. 1 love 6. 1 love 7. 3 loves 8. 3 loves 9. 0 10. 1 love 11. 0 12. 2 loves 13. 1 love 14. 1 love 15. 3 loves 16. 3 loves

I count eleven in each verse, 22 in all. How can this be anything but a send-up. I wonder if any other lyric in history has ever jammed so much love into such a small space.

And Bruce Miller replied: Gustav Holst set an English song called "I love my love" in which the refrain goes:

I love my love because I know
My love loves me.

It's a serious ballad about a maiden (Nancy) sent to Bedlam by her cruel parents, with the intent of keeping her away from her lover - who comes back to rescue her:

She said: My love don't frighten me;
Are you my love or no?
Oh yes, my dearest Nancy,
I am your love also.
I have returned to make amends
For all your miserie;
I love my love because I know
My love loves me.

But I do agree with you that the Sorcerer ballad is probably a send-up.

4.7 From Banquet to Brunch

Gene Leonardi wrote: Seeing as 'ow Sorcerer seems to be, in some ways, a treatise on class distinction, I thought I'd add my 02 cents concerning that suspicious "banquet" that Sir Marmaduke throws at the end of Act I. If one really examines the menu, one is forced to conclude that it all adds up to what we here in the States might call a very modest Sunday brunch. It makes me think that Sir Marmaduke has a rather more elaborate feast planned for the local gentry after he has cleared out the hoi palloi. If one wants to give Sir M the benefit of the doubt, maybe at the end of Act II, his mind cleansed by the effects of the elixir, his reference to crowning rapture with "another feast" could be the one he had laid on in reserve and the villagers won't have to have ham and eggs for two meals in a row.

If however, Sir M reverts to type again we may have to change our first act chorus somewhat. Since we have toyed with a dark Pinafore, I may also suggest a dark Sorcerer, which might use a chorus somewhat like the following:

Now to the brunch in a mob.
Saying what we've said before.
They're all such terrible snobs.
We're lucky to get in the door.

As for the tea of our host.
Watery, bitter like gall.
Let's all fill up on the toast
And grab a few things from the Hall.
Yes, if it were'nt for the toast
You wouldn't have seen us at all!

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