| The Sorcerer > Reviews > Review of the First Night
OPERA COMIQUE THEATRE
Daily News (London, England), Monday, November 19, 1877; Issue 9853
The production of the new opera, the joint work of Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan, has been for some time looked forward to with much interest, its postponement having, we believe, been caused by Mr. Sullivan’s temporary illness. This gentleman has in several instances, particularly in "The Contrabandista" and Trial by Jury,” shown such special aptitude for music in the comic style; that another success was confidently predicted, especially as he was again to be associated, as in the piece last named, with a dramatic author possessed of high literary power and pungent humour.
The new work, entitled "The Sorcerer," was brought out on Saturday night with a result that fulfilled the most sanguine anticipations. The piece is in two acts, the scene being laid at a rural village (Ploverleigh), and the time of the action being the present day. The interest is throughout of the comic kind, touches of subtle humour being alternated with passages of broad farce; some portions, especially the close, partaking largely of the nature of burlesque. Incongruous as is the mixture of the supernatural and the horrible with the colloquial style of ordinary life of the present day, the continuous fun elicited therefrom; the frequent clever satirical hits at some of the conventional absurdities of English opera, and the reflection of a keen intellect throughout the work may well reconcile one to the somewhat strained machinery employed. Only hypercriticism of the most saturnine order, however; could resist the provocatives to laughter which prevail from the beginning to the end of the piece, which, we believe, is based on a Christmas story of Mr. Gilbert's, the incidents springing out of the wondrous effects produced by a magic love-philtre, these having been already used for operatic purposes; and here another bit of good-humoured satire is evidently intended.
The characters in "The Sorcerer'' and their representatives are as follows:– Aline, Miss Alice May; Lady Sangazure (Aline's mother), Mrs Howard Paul; Constance, Miss Giulia Warwick; Mrs. Partlet, a pew-opener (Constance's mother), Miss Everard; Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, an elderly baronet, Mr. Temple; Alexis, of the Grenadier Guards (son of Sir Marmaduke), Mr. G. Bentham; Dr. Daly, vicar of Ploverleigh, Mr. Rutland Barrington; John Wellington Wells (of the firm of J. W. Wells and Co., Family Sorcerers), Mr. G. Grossmith, jun.; and Notary, Mr. Clifton.
The first act takes place in the grounds of Sir Marmaduke's mansion, where the tenantry are assembled to celebrate the betrothal of Alexis and Aline. In this scene the strongly marked individualities of the different characters are brought out – the aristocratic pomposity of the formal old baronet; the romantic and devoted attachment of Alexis and Aline; the secret and despairing love of the humble Constance for the Vicar; the courtly manner of Lady Sangazure; the bland sentimentalism of the Vicar; and the grotesque humour of J. W. Wells. Alexis, rejoicing in the mutual attachment of himself and Aline, suggests to his betrothed that it would be a meritorious act to "steep the whole village up to its lips in love, and to couple them in matrimony without distinction of age, rank, or fortune," his theory being, that all artificial barriers of wealth, education, beauty, habits, taste, and temper, &c., &c., should be broken down. For this purpose he seeks the aid of J, W. Wells, who offers him a love-philtre adapted for the purpose. Aline's objection, that "many of the villagers are married people," is met by the vendor's assertion that the charm "is compounded on the strictest principles; on married people it has no effect whatever."An incantation takes place, the love-potion is produced, and is administered in libations of tea to the assembled villagers and others – the quaffing of the beverage being entitled a "Tea-cup Brindisi" – general rejoicings closing the first act.
The scene of the second act is the market-place of Ploverleigh, and here are developed the wondrous results of the magic potion – the villagers enter in couples, oddly associated; an old man with a young girl, a young man with an old woman, &c.; Constance with the deaf old notary; Sir. Marmaduke with the pew-opener; Lady Sangazure is seized with a sudden passion for Mr. Wells, who, not being under the influence of the spell, is horrified thereat; and, to crown the whole, Aline, who has reluctantly yielded to her lover's persuasion to taste of the philtre in order to ensure the permanence of their love, does so and is immediately enamoured of the sentimental, elderly vicar, whose yearning heart reciprocates the feeling. This crisis brings on the catastrophe. Alexis's rage, and his appeal to the dealer in magic, elicits the avowal of the latter that only the sacrifice of the life of the one or the other of these two will remove the spell; stating that he would willingly be himself the victim, but that his firm “take stock next week; and it would not be fair on the company.” He, however; consents to be sacrificed, and goes down through a trap amidst a display of red fire – a readjustment of things ensues, and all ends happily.
All this, briefly summarized, may seem very absurd; but the piece is throughout intended as a joke, and, as already indicated, a very good one it is, and being in every detail thoroughly well realized, it can scarcely fail to cause hearty laughter for many nights to come. The representative of each character entered thoroughly into its spirit, and all sang their music, in its different degrees of importance, with good effect. Miss May was an attractive and graceful Aline, and her brilliant and extensive soprano voice told with much effect; Miss Warwick was highly efficient as Constance; Mrs. H. Paul duly important as the titled lady and Miss Everard appropriately demure as the pew-opener. Mr. Bentham, as Alexis, sang well, although an apology was made in his behalf on the score of a sore throat; Mr. Temple was very good as the formally polite baronet; Mr. Barrington looked and acted to the life as the sententious, yet bland and sentimental, clergyman; Mr. Grossmith made a decided hit in his humorous portrayal of J. W. Wells, the Cockney magician of St. Mary-axe; and the small part of the notary was satisfactorily sustained Mr. Clifton.
To speak now of the music. The opera is preceded by a light and melodious orchestral introduction leading to a bright chorus of peasantry; the first act including also an aria for Constance, "When he is here”; a mock sentimental ballad, "Time was, when Love and I," for Dr. Daly; a very pretty chorus of girls, "With heart and with voice"; an aria, "O, happy young heart", for Aline, brilliantly sung by Miss May, who had to repeat it; a ballad, "In days gone by," for Lady Sangazure and a cleverly written duet, "Welcome joy," for Lady Sangazure and Sir Marmaduke, which was capitally sung and acted, and was the second encore of the evening; a "contract scene," a very good bit of musical burlesque; a sentimental ballad, "Love feeds on many kinds of food," for Alexis; a rattling "patter" song for J. W. Wells (encored), a burlesque "Incantation scene," and a rather elaborate and highly effective finale.
The music of Act 2 begins with a chorus of peasants expressive of the effects of the love-philtre, after which comes an aria, "Dear friends," for Constance, which is followed by a very good concerted piece for Aline, Alexis and the Notary. A beautiful quintet, "I rejoice that it's, decided," was one of the several successes of the evening, and had to be repeated. A duet follows for Lady Sangazure and Mr. J. W. Wells, in which the latter tries to repulse the advances of the former; then come several incidental pieces, recitative and ensemble; and a song for Dr. Daly, "Oh, my voice is sad and low,” which is interlarded by him with some faint phrases on a flageolet, very expressive of his sentimental maundering, and his dejected remembrance of his several repulses in efforts of matrimony. The reiterated quotation of the ladies' replies, "I'm engaged to So-and-So" – "So-and-So,'' with intermediate snatches of his flageolet, forming the burden of his song was richly ludicrous, the effect having been heightened by Mr. Barrington's stolid and imperturbable maintenance of calm placidity. A duet for Aline and Dr. Daly, and some incidental music, lead to the finale, which is skilfully written, although not equal, either in extent or development to that of the first act, which, is masterly in its choral and orchestral combinations and the distinctive treatment of the vocal solo portions. There is frequent use made of recitative, and the contrast between this declamatory style and the colloquialisms of the text is another of Mr. Gilbert's sly hits at a certain class of English opera, further evidences of which might be cited; among others, the change of pronouns in concerted pieces, as distinguishing the principal actors from the lookers-on; thus, in the contract scene, "I deliver it as my act and deed,” "They deliver it as their act and deed.” It may be already inferred from what we have said that Mr. Sullivan has thoroughly entered into the comic aspect of the work, special instances being the patter song referred to, the touch of the grandiose style in the contract scene, the occasional quaint antique rhythm occurring in the music of the two titled characters, and the burlesque of the ultra-romantic style in the incantation. Further reference is due to the general excellence of the performance in order to pay tribute to the chorus, which was ample as to power, and of rare efficiency as to correctness and truthfulness of intonation, the orchestra being on a scale sufficient for the requirements of the opera and of the theatre.
Messrs. Gordon and Harford have supplied two very picturesque scenes, the dresses are excellent in quality and appropriateness, and the stage groupings testify to the skill of Mr. C. Harris, the stage manager.
Mr. Sullivan conducted the performance, and he and Mr. Gilbert were called on at the end of the opera.
The "Sorcerer" was preceded by Mr. Alfred Cellier's pleasant operetta "Dora's Dream," conducted by himself – the two lovers (the only characters) being well represented by Miss Giulia Warwick and Mr. Temple.
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