| The Sorcerer > Reviews > Review of the 1877 Production
The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, November 24, 1877; Issue 417.
OPERA COMIQUE. – The production of The Sorcerer, on Saturday night, was a real success – so real, indeed, as to encourage the belief that it will be lasting. That the work – "comic opera," or whatever special definition it may legitimately claim – is one of singular merit, few who have witnessed and heard it can reasonably deny. With Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan each at his best, it would be hypercritical to look for failure; and, both conditions being fulfilled in The Sorcerer, the result was what, without risk of disappointment, might have been anticipated.
Mr. Gilbert has adopted an old and much revered legend – that of the "philtre," or love potion – as the basis of his libretto. His treatment of this legend, however, belongs exclusively to him, and to no other. Nor Thomas of Erceldoun ("the Rhymer"), nor Rusticien de Pise, nor Malory himself would have recognised it again. The readers of The Graphic, however – better informed through our last Christmas number – can draw their own inferences. For this reason – to say nothing of the ample details published on Monday by our daily contemporaries, we are absolved from the task of describing the plot. Enough that what, through the agency of Dame Bragwaine, was with fatal results administered to Sir Tristram, son of Meliadus, and to King Mark's wife, "the Belle Isonde" (we use the nomenclature of Mort d'Arthure – our own cherished romance), is by Mr. Wellington Wells, chief of an established house of "family necromancers," administered to the whole population of a village with no more fatal results than such as are provocative of mirth irresistible. The secret belongs exclusively to Mr. Gilbert, who in lieu of making folks weep bitterly compels them to laugh until tears of a healthier sort are engendered – the risum movere, rather than the lacrymas excire, being his especial aim. This he has accomplished with admirable skill, doubly fortunate in his Orphean confederate, Mr. Arthur Sullivan, one of the most gifted of Britain's musical sons, whose co-operation with the author of Pygmalion, the Palace of Truth, &c., has – witness the inimitable Trial by Jury, &c., – been already more than once successful. Both author and composer have reason to be gratified with this outcome of their united efforts.
The Sorcerer made "a hit – a palpable hit" – on Saturday night, at the Opera Comique, and kept the audience in one continuous state of hilariosity. At the same time, let it not be thought that the music of Mr. Arthur Sullivan is limited exclusively to parody and burlesque. On the contrary, while it is comic where the pure comic element is essential as Mr. Gilbert's own verve, dialogue, and incident, it not seldom speaks eloquently for itself, forcing, without exaggeration, his subtle confederate to look, in spite of himself, serious – to sob, in short, like Heraclitus, instead of to gibe after the manner of Democritus. Mr. Sullivan possesses the happy art of assuming gravity while affecting to be gay; and this makes him all the more fitting partner for Mr. Gilbert in works of art like The Sorcerer, where frequently the mock seriousness of that which is spoken and acted constitutes at the bottom what Shakespeare's Nym would style "the humour of it." Half-a-dozen instances might be cited in exemplification, but our space will not admit of detailed criticism, nor is it imperatively demanded. The Sorcerer – book and music – will speak for itself to those who have an innate sense of lively wit and genial humour, while for such as are not endowed with this peculiar faculty an analysis would be of little use. Aristophanes was not appreciated by the untutored mass, and had music in the time of Socrates been an art such as two or three centuries have made it for the actual generation, Aristophanes, feeling disposed to call in its aid, allowing it to play a conspicuous part, he would surely have looked out some Timotheus like Arthur Sullivan. Then would the "Birds" have chirped in measured tune, and "Frogs" have croaked in harmony! What more need be added beyond repeating that the The Sorcerer was a brilliant and richly merited success?
A word of general and unqualified commendation is due to the performers, one and all. 'The leading singers were Mrs. Howard Paul, Misses Alice May, Everard, and Giulia Warwick; Messrs. George Bentham, Rutland Barrington, Temple, Clifton, and George Grossmith, two of the gentlemen, the second and fifth named, being novices before the stage-lights, although few would have set them down for anything less than adepts. Both chorus and orchestra were in every respect efficient, while the scenery and stage arrangements were alike to the credit of those responsible for their accuracy. Mr. Sullivan himself was at the conductor's desk.
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