|The Sorcerer > Reviews > Review of the 1878 Touring Company in Birmingham
PRINCE OF WALES THEATRE.
Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Tuesday, June 11, 1878; Issue 6216.
Those happily-mated partners in mirth and music, Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan, have seldom, if ever, united their talents to better purpose than in the so- called "comic opera" — really a musical extravaganza — "The Sorcerer,” I which was introduced to the Birmingham public for the first time by Mr. R. D’Oyly Carte's company last night. “The Trial by Jury" long since afforded a glimpse of the lyric possibilities of such a combination, in which each contributor is so well able to supply what the other lacks; but in “The Sorcerer” the union of cynical humour with musical colour and geniality is carried much farther, and the motives of a musical farce are expanded to the proportions of a regular comic opera, with a host of dramatis personæ all distinctly individualised, and elaborate concerted pieces and choruses. Whether something of effect is not sacrificed by this expansion is a question which everyone must answer for himself, but we can vouch for it that, on the fall of the curtain last night, the feeling of the audience was not that the entertainment was too long, but that there was not enough of it.
The libretto of "The Sorcerer" differs from most of Mr. Gilbert's achievements in this line, in so far as the main idea upon which the plot hangs in not a new one. The love potion or philtre is an operatic motive which has certainly done good service in its day, as witness more particularly “Le Philtre" of Auber, "L’Elisir d'Amore” of Donizetti, and Wagner's "Tristan and Iseult;" but Mr. Gilbert’s treatment of the subject is so entirely his own that except the motive it has nothing in common with any of the other works referred to. In all of these the magic potion is a more or less serious reality; in Mr. Gilbert's libretto, and the story on which he built it, the author does not disguise his mockery of the superstition even in surrounding it with elements of diablerie which are dispensed with in the other dramas referred to. But a brief outline of the piece will best allow how the humour works.
The operetta is in two acts, the scene of which is laid in and about the village of Ploverleigh. In the first act, which takes place in the grounds of Sir Marmaduke Point Dextre (sic), an elderly baronet of the old-fashioned, ceremonious school, the tenantry are assembled to celebrate the betrothal of the baronet's son Alexis, a stalwart young Guardsman, to the beautiful Aline, daughter of Lady Sangazure. Now, Alexis is a strong believer in the virtues of matrimony as a panacea for all human ills, and he would like to break down "the artificial barrier of rank, wealth, education, age, beauty, habits, taste, and temper," in order to promote the more general adoption of his specific. He has read somewhere an advertisement of a "patent oxy hydrogen love at first sight philtre," advertised by Mr. John Wellington Wells, of the firm of Wells and Co., family sorcerers of St. Mary Axe, and from philanthropic motives he resolves to try it upon the villagers who do not pair so fast as he would like. Accordingly, he summons to his aid Mr. Wells, a sleek, dapper, obsequious tradesmen, who produces the desired philtre from his waistcoat pocket, and after an amusing incantation scene with a teapot, burlesquing the famous situation in the Freischutz, brews the potion which the vicar innocently dispenses to the company and villagers. Half an hour is supposed to be the interval required for the working of the potion, under the influence of which the characters are evidently falling when the curtain descends upon act the first.
In the second act the full effects of the potion are apparent in the fact that the villagers have come up to the vicar in a body, imploring him, couple after couple, to join them in bonds of matrimony, though, as Aline naively remarks there is "not a match among them that the hollow world would consider well advised." Sir Marmaduke, the courtly, has proposed to, and been accepted by Dame Partlett (sic), a respectable pew opener; her daughter, Constance, previously in love with the Vicar, has transferred her affections to the deaf and venerable notary, and the stately Lady Sangazure makes a dead set at Mr. Wells, the sorcerer. Presently Aline, who has reluctantly consented to drink some of the philtre, at the urgent request of Alexis, who wishes in this way to rivet her affections on himself, unluckily encounters the vicar, Dr. Daly, of whom she becomes straightway enamoured, and he being also under the influence of the philtre, reciprocates her sudden attachment with equal ardour. The horror and indignation of Alexis may be imagined, but Aline and the Vicar tell him that he has only himself to blame for compelling them to try the philtre. In this emergency Alexis appeals to Mr. Wells to undo the spell, but though the family sorcerer is as anxious as the Guardsman to end the embroglio, if only to escape the persecuting adoration of Lady Sangazure, he sees no way out of the difficulty unless one or other of them will sacrifice his life to Ahrimanes. Neither of them is particularly anxious to make the sacrifice, so it is ultimately put to the vote of the company to decide who shall die. The choice falling upon Mr. Wells as the source of all the mischief, the family sorcerer draws a poison phial from his pocket and descends amid a blaze of red fire to the nether regions, scattering the handbills of his firm and carefully brushing his hat as he descends. The ill-chosen unions are then instantly dissolved, toad the dramatis personæ return to their first attachments, to celebrate which happy event another wedding feast is improvised by the hospitable baronet, and all goes merry as a marriage-bell till the fall of the curtain.
By a little compression and the elimination of one or two superfluous characters, such an the pew-opener's daughter, the piece might be much improved; but even as it is it is exceedingly diverting, the plot we have roughly sketched affording no real idea of the drollery of the situations and the raciness of the dialogue. The music is more full and elaborate than in any other of Mr. Sullivan's lyric works, and though somewhat unequal in melodic interest, it is full of picturesqueness and colour, and contains some of the happiest things he has written. We may mention especially the introductory patter song of the Sorcerer, "My name is John Wellington Wells;" Aline's aria, "Oh, happy young heart;" the ballads of Alexis, "For love alone," and “It is not love;" "The Vicar's song;" the choruses, "Ring forth ye bells" and “Oh joy, oh joy;” the minuet duet for the baronet and Lady Sangazure, and the instrumentation of the incantation scene. The choruses and concerted pieces generally are among the happiest numbers in the work, and the instrumental writing throughout is full of colour, spirit, and novel and ingenious effects.
The performance altogether was a remarkably effective one. The mock stately duet before referred to was encored last night, as were also the patter song of the sorcerer and a quintet in the second act, "I rejoice that it's decided," in which the principal personages express their feelings over the betrothal of Sir Marmaduke to the pew-opener. Mr. J. H. Riley (sic) , as the family sorcerer, was the life and soul of the piece; Miss Harriet Coveney, as the demure pew opener; Miss Duglas Gordon, as her daughter Constance; and Miss Rosina Brandram, as Lady Sangazure, were excellent in their respective parts; but the intonation of the representative of Aline was occasionally faulty. Mr. Bentham’s vocalisation also disappointed us in the music of Alexis, though his acting was fairly good. Mr. Furneaux Cook was admirable as the vicar, Dr. Daly.
The dresses and mise en scene were all that could be desired; and the accompaniments rendered by a powerful orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Hamilton Clarke, formerly of this town, added greatly to the effect of the performance.
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