| The Sorcerer > Reviews > Review of the 1877 Production
Much as we admired the new comic opera The Sorcerer on the night of its first performance at the Opera Comique Theatre, we were not prepared for the refined, finished, exquisitely humorous, and altogether admirable performance we saw on Monday evening last. We know, only too well, that many aristocratic frequenters of our Theatres have been kept away at times by the coarseness and vulgarity to be met with in so many works of the opera bouffe class. In these, unhappily, as we have had frequent occasion to remark, slang has done duty for drollery, coarse jests have supplied the place of legitimate satire, and the most tiresome and vulgar word torturing has been accepted by a reckless gallery for wit. But this sort of thing as Shakespeare tells us, "while it makes the unskilful laugh, causes the judicious to grieve," and it was with a keen eye to the requirements of modern comic opera that Mr. D'Oyly Carte issued his preliminary announcement of The Sorcerer, composed by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, and written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert. In that notice, which we have reason to believe has not passed unnoticed, Mr. D'Oyly Carte clearly indicated that the composer and librettist of a better and more wholesome school of comic opera would be forthcoming if only the public supported their honourable endeavours.
Well, the experiment had to be tried; it has been tried, and the result is a triumph. Here is a work placed before the public so full of drollery and whimsical ideas that the crowded audiences attracted every night to witness it sit laughing merrily from beginning to end. Here is a work which, when we talk about it over the supper table afterwards and describe its most amusing scenes, does not cause us to hush our voices if there are young people in the room. Here is a work which does not shock the feelings of a delicate and cultured lady by an exhibition almost reminding us of the traveller's description of the costume of a savage Queen, whose full Court dress was a necklace of beads and a feather. Here is a work which schoolgirls may laugh at, and which his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury will very likely go and see as a foretaste of that Millennium when the Pulpit and the Stage shall go hand in hand in elevating the people; and in short, The Sorcerer even Cardinal Manning would find it difficult to pick a hole in, while for the average mortal it offers a source of the most legitimate and wholesome recreation scarcely to be equalled at the present day. We earnestly advise those straitlaced persons who have "conscientious scruples about going to the Theatre” to pay a visit to the Opera Comique. They will be grateful to us for ever after, and will go about making converts everywhere so thoroughly pure, innocent, fanciful, and enjoyable will they find the combined results of Messrs. Sullivan and Gilbert's labours.
It is unnecessary to do more on this occasion than just to remind our readers that the plot is founded upon Mr. Gilbert's story in The Graphic last Christmas, and the subject is the complications that arise through the harmless endeavours of a country curate to increase the number of marriages, and consequently to enhance human happiness in proportion. The accomplishment of this desirable end was to be attained by the administration of a love potion. In The Sorcerer the fun comes, of course, out of the various characters falling in love with unsuitable partners. There is no attempt to depict the wild passion of the scene in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, where the heroine is tempted from her rightful lord by means of a love-potion. There is not, either, anything resembling L'Elisir d'Amore of Donizetti. Mr. Gilbert's "Elixir of Love" has nothing tragic, nothing even sentimental in its concoction. It is simply an elixir of harmless fun, and as such we accept it, not merely with commendation, but with a feeling akin to gratitude, and while we give hearty thanks to the author we are also deeply indebted to Mr. Arthur Sullivan for some of the brightest and most sparkling music ever heard in an English opera. There is not a dull bar in the whole score, and some of the songs have a charm only to be fully appreciated after several times hearing. As for the concerted music, it is simply exquisite, and the quintet in the second act is as musicianly as it is appropriate to the situation. Throughout the opera the writing for the orchestra is full of graceful touches, and the choral portions are truly excellent.
Having thus referred to the work generally, let us turn our attention to the representation, which is little short of perfection. The various characters have been assigned to performers qualified to do them justice. Taking them in their order on the bill, we find Lady Sangazure impersonated by MISS BRANDAM. This character was originally played by Mrs. Howard Paul, who, as we remarked upon the opening night, was out of voice. Since then a severe attack of bronchitis has compelled her to resign the part, and on Monday evening Miss Brandram filled Mrs. Howard Paul's place, and, if not with equal ability as an actress, her vocal skill was equal to the requirements of the part, and there were indications that when Miss Brandram is more at home in the character she will become a very satisfactory member of the company, and fully realise the intentions of author and composer. It must also be added, in justice to Miss Brandram, that she undertook tine part at very short notice.
MISS ALICE MAY. – The great experience Miss Alice May had acquired in the school of Offenbach and other composers of that class enabled her to give an immense amount of dash, vivacity, and animation to the character of Aline; and on the first night that part stood out more prominently even than was required for the perfect balance of the picture. Artists appreciate strong lights and shadows, but they only crave for them to be sufficiently marked to give individuality. Miss Alice May never gave better proof of her artistic capacity than in the slight modifications she has made in her stage business since the opening night. There is now a certain repose in her impersonation in some of the scenes, and this brings into charming contrast those situations in which the interest mainly depends upon the heroine. Discarding the airs and graces of the prima donna, Miss May seeks only to render the character naturally and artistically. Aline, as we see her now, is just the gushing, graceful, romantic girl the author intended to portray; and while Miss May’s rendering dramatically is full of grace and fascination, her vocal powers are displayed to the utmost advantage, both in the songs and the concerted music. The song "Oh, happy young heart,” is sung by Miss May in a style worthy of grand opera, and her share in the trio, quartet, and especially in the delightful quintet, enhances greatly the effect of the pretty music. Ladies will also appreciate the toilette of Miss May. It is refined in taste and remarkably effective. We have only to add that Miss May has gained the entire approval of most fastidious audiences, and that she must be pronounced a great acquisition.
MISS GIULIA WARWICK. – This young lady has won laurels as a member of the Carl Rosa opera company, a proof in itself that she possesses more than average capacity. Miss Giulia Warwick has it pure soprano voice of good compass, and it is evident that she has been trained in a capital school. Her vocal gifts are effectively employed in the little opening piece, Dora’s Dream. Successful as Miss Warwick was on the first night, as the demure little pupil teacher, we confess we were not prepared for such an improvement as that we noticed in her acting and singing on Monday evening. Her first song was rendered with exquisite taste, and with a simplicity in strict accordance with the character, while as the opera proceeded her acting became more animated, and in many scenes indicated ability of a high order. One of the greatest drawbacks to English opera has been the difficulty of finding singers who can act and actors who can sing. Miss Warwick unites these qualifications in a degree that fills us with pleasing anticipations of her future career. Her delineation of Constance will alone suffice to win her a reputation.
MISS H. EVERARD. – We may boldly affirm that a more complete and perfect embodiment of a characteristic part was never seen than Miss Everard’s quaint and excessively comic impersonation of Mrs. Partlett (sic), the pew opener. The sleek, sly old dame, in her sober black, with her outward humility and her inward intention to secure the vicar for her daughter, stands before us with the utmost vividness. Mrs. Partlett does not, appear a stage creation so much as somebody we have known. We catch ourselves saying, almost unconsciously, “Bless us, where have we seen that pew opener?” Can we pay a greater compliment to the skill, of the actress? We fancy not. The quaint turn of affairs when Sir Marmaduke, through drinking the love potion, proposes to the pew opener, enables Miss Everard to display some admirable touches of genuine humour when she describes herself as “a clean and tidy widdy." The humour is of the most legitimate quality, and never forced or obtrusive.
MR. RICHARD TEMPLE. – Among the many baritones who have contributed to the success of English opera few have so steadily advanced of late as Mr. Richard Temple. He is a competent vocalist, always efficient, and frequently very effective, but he owes his position and popularity in a great measure to his facility in stage business, and to his readiness in seizing the humorous features of a new character. We hardly know where a more satisfactory representative of Sir Marmaduke could have been found than Mr. Temple. When the baronet, so proud of his descent, comes upon the stage in his court suit, we feel that Mr. Temple has got to the very marrow of the part. His contempt for the excesses of modern love making, his admiration for the precise manners of the good old school, his cheerful good-humour, his invariable politeness, his chivalrous deference to the fair sex, are all part and parcel of the character, such as it would be in real life, and the minutest details are carried out with a taste and discrimination revealing the utmost intelligence, combined with honest intention. Mr. Temple has never done anything so good before. In this instance the singing is of secondary importance, but here also Mr. Temple was careful and efficient.
MR. GEORGE BENTHAM. – When a few years back Mr. Bentham followed the advice of enthusiastic admirers, and betook himself to the study of opera, Italian as well as English, it was thought by many that he would become one of the most prominent of modern tenors, and various essays on the operatic stage appeared to promise that, if he did not reach the pinnacle his friends desired, Mr. Bentham might have won considerable renown. Whether he intends to permanently transfer his talents to the English stage we cannot say, but we welcome his appearance at the Opera Comique. His pleasing tenor voice (unfortunately on the first night not under control) is now in excellent order, and he sings the pretty music with fluency and grace, and acts with no little animation as the romantic young guardsman. Mr. Bentham's commanding figure enables him to look the character admirably.
MR. RUTLAND BARRINGTON. – In Mr. Barrington's delineation of Dr. Daly, the sentimental vicar, we have one of the most original creations of the modern stage. Nature has favoured Mr. Barrington with a handsome face and a stately figure and when he steps upon the stage as the Vicar of Ploverleigh the illusion is absolutely perfect. All the artificial aids of the stage are forgotten at once. The mild, gentle representative of the church in a country village appears "in his habit as he lived.” Surely this is not an actor, not a person who has studied a part line by line, who has committed to memory particulars of exits and entrances, who has meditated upon the mysteries of stage "business". No, a thousand times no. He is up in town for some Exeter Hall meeting. He has just made a speech on the "Boriaboola Gha" Mission. He is on his way to preside at a school treat. Seriously, the life-like manner in which Mr. Barrington depicts some of the harmless peculiarities and mannerisms of a country vicar is positively remarkable. One would suppose he had spent every Sunday of his life in the pulpit, and that his daily life was devoted to the work of a remote parish. But let it not be supposed that there is anything of offensive caricature in this. Sometimes the clergy are held up to ridicule; and, goodness gracious, don't they sometimes deserve it, as at Hatcham, for example? Mr. Barrington’s skill is not burlesque, but faithful reproduction of character, and in every respect the portrait is perfect.The attitudes, the tones, the vocalisation, even the most trifling details, are carefully studied. The actor is never “out of the character” for a moment. Take it for all in all it is one of the most delightful impersonations we have ever witnessed. We hear that several well-known clergymen have already gone to have a quiet chuckle at their reverend brother on the stage.
MR. F. CLIFTON as the Counsel has very little to do, but that little is done admirably. The scene where Constance, after drinking the love potion, falls in love with the deaf old lawyer enabled Mr. Clifton to display some genuine comic talent. A little more might have been made of this character if only for Mr. Clifton's sake.
MR. GEORGE GROSSMITH, JUN. – Nobody, seeing Mr. Grossmith representing the Sorcerer, would imagine that he only appeared on the stage for the first time a few nights ago. Mr. Grossmith had previously shown in many ways a natural aptitude for dramatic representation, and his humour, as displayed in a host of funny sketches and comic songs, was greatly appreciated. It remained to be seen how he would bear himself in a wider field of action. Mr. Grossmith passed the ordeal with the greatest credit. His conception of the Sorcerer is downright comical, whimsical, and original. The dry, odd manner with which he recommends the "Love at first sight" potion as his "leading article" paved the way for that irresistibly droll burlesque “Incantation Scene" upon Sir Marmaduke's lawn; the features of the wild music in Der Freischutz, and the mysterious scene in Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, being amusingly caricatured by the composer. Mr. Grossmith fills in the details with the most laughable effect. His imitation of Bertram and Caspar, Mephistopheles and other fiendish personages, must be seen to be appreciated; and his comic locomotion is rewarded with roars of laughter. Mr. Grossmith sings the "patter songs" assigned to the character so amusingly that he is every night encored.
Finally, we must include in our commendation the admirable efforts of the chorus and orchestra. They add greatly to the effect of the piece, and we have seldom heard a chorus sing better in tune. Mr. G. B. Allen works wonders as a conductor, and the bright, lively dances owe much to the careful arrangement of Mr. John D’Auban; Mr. Charles Harris having evidently paid the utmost attention to the Stage-Management. We have only to add that Mr. D'Oyly Carte's enterprise is rewarded by crowded and aristocratic audiences every night, and that at the morning performance last Saturday numbers could not obtain admission.
Page modified 19 October Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.