|The Sorcerer > Reviews > Review of the 1878 Touring Company in Sheffield
"THE SORCERER" AT THE THEATRE ROYAL.
The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England),
The Gilbert-Sullivan combination is now one of the recognized institutions of the theatre, and the joint productions of these gentlemen create as much anticipatory conjecture, and are received with as much enthusiasm, as falls to the lot of most of the popular works. The name of Mr. Gilbert at once calls up fairy fancies of the most exquisite cunning and charm. His "Pygmalion and Galatea" revealed a mind crowded with metaphor and possessed with an irresistible humour, and a pen capable of conveying the riches of the mind clothed in graceful and pungent language. His later works have tended always to increase his reputation.
Mr. Arthur Sullivan, too, in his sphere wields a sway as potent as that of Mr. Gilbert. His cantatas exhibit a novel originality, which is worked up with elaborateness and yet with freedom and ease. At times his concerted music reaches the height of an oratorio, and anon it flies off at a tangent in a light rippling melody which is almost Offenbachian in its gaiety and abandon.
Thus it may be well understood, that when it was known that Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan were associated in the production of what was subsequently launched upon the world as a “musical cantata," (sic) London theatre-goers were on the tip-toe of expectation. “Trial by Jury" was at once accepted as a happy augury of future enjoyment, and it became the rage. Scarcely a theatre in the united kingdom has failed to echo with laughter at the “judge's song" and at the chorus of jurymen, and to ring with hearty applause after some of the delightful concerted music contained in that little piece. The only wonder was that the second crop from such rich soil was so long delayed, but eventually the "Sorcerer" appeared, and London flocked to see it, and now the Opera Comique is nightly crowded by the third result of the association, "H.M.S. Pinafore; or, the Lass that Loved a Sailor."
Upon Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte devolved the pleasant and lucrative task of bringing the "Sorcerer" into the provinces, and this week the company winds up the tour at the Theatre Royal. Mr. Younge is to be congratulated upon having made the engagement, which cannot fail to give satisfaction to his patrons and to add to his already established character as a liberal and enterprising caterer for the public. Last evening saw its first representation in Sheffield, and a large house assembled to witness the production. To say that the "Sorcerer" was received with enthusiasm but feebly describes the delight and demonstrativeness of the audience; and a good week's business, despite the dulness of the season, may be confidently anticipated.
The plot is simple, and makes but small demands upon the patience of the audience, and the genuine and at times wild fun with which it abounds sets weariness at defiance. The opening scene is laid in the garden of Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre's Elizabethan mansion, and a chorus of peasantry at once inform the audience that that day sees the betrothal of Alexis, the son of Sir Marmaduke, to Aline, the daughter of the aristocratic Lady Sangazure. Alexis is a firm believer in matrimony as a panacea for every ill, and to the end that the whole village may share in the blessings, he has engaged Mr. John Wellington Wells, of the firm of J. W. Wells and Co., sorcerers, of St. Mary Axe, to dispense a love potion to the villagers. The philtre is administered, and the most surprising results follow. Each person who tastes the potion falls in love with the first person of the opposite sex whom he meets. The courtly Sir Marmaduke, a polished gentleman of the last generation, who is attached to Lady Sangazure, meets with Mrs. Partlet, a pew opener, and they pair off. Constance, a pupil teacher, who is in love with Dr. Daly, the rector, is mated to a deaf old barrister. Lady Sangazure throws herself at the feet of the Sorcerer, the villagers pair off in a most incongruous manner, and Dr. Daly, who is himself under the spell, regrets that "No one's left to marry me." However, Alexis, anxious to secure the lasting love of his fianceé, insists that she, too, shall drink the potion. She obeys, and first casting eyes upon the rector, transfers her affections to him. The Sorcerer, a highly respectable tradesman, is horrified at the results which have been caused through his instrumentality, and to break the charm dies, and goes down a trap amidst red fire, as the couples mate in a manner consistent with poetic justice. The libretto is quaintly and strikingly humorous and the amusing situations which the plot affords are brought out with dramatic force. The music is skilfully wedded to the words, and is in turns weird and flowing, light and ambitious, stately and reckless. It is ever graceful and attractive, and, though mostly easy, catching melody, it now and then rises to a grandeur which would be accepted in a work having a more ambitions designation than a comic opera.
The prominent object is, of course, the Sorcerer, who is most capably represented by Mr. J. H. Ryley. Dressed in the every-day costume of a comparatively affluent tradesman, he puts forward his spells merely as commercial articles, and his incantation is thus rendered doubly humorous and grotesque. That scene is indeed remarkable. His invocation of the spirits as he apostrophises a teapot, is bloodthirsty in the extreme, and when he trots round the vessel in a manner which puzzles imitation, the audience are fain to yell with laughter, which it is impossible to suppress. Again when, after combating the advances of Lady Sangazure, he waves his hands over the train of her dress, and condemns her to the "family vault," he is immensely funny, and the audience last night entered heartily into the burlesque. His sacrifice, too, is another fine scene, and the theatre again rung with yells of laughter and applause as he wound up his watch, smoothed the nap of his hat, and carefully put on his gloves before he went "it matters not with whom — or where!" His song, "My name is John Wellington Wells," and the incantation were given with spirit and ability, and the former, which is an immense tax on the powers of pronunciation, was repeated in answer to a general encore. His performance is indeed a most clever and novel one, and fairly merits the enthusiasm with which it is invariably received.
Next in importance come perhaps the Sir Marmaduke of Mr Arthur Rousbey, and the Lady Sangazure of Miss Rosina Brandram. A duet between them, in which the refined and polished gallantry of lovers of the last generation are admirably indicated, was one of the successes of the evening. Both exhibited that courtly grace and punctilious propriety which our grandfathers and grandmothers practised so successfully, and the obeisances and curtsies were pictures of elegance. Their acting, too, was in the true spirit of the piece, and the fine bass of one and the rich deep contralto of the other were effectively heard in the concerted music.
The Dr. Daly of Mr. Furneanx Cook was another fine performance. He looked a clergyman to the life, and bore about him an air of dignity which admirably suited the character. His first song, "I was a fair young curate then,'' was given with splendid effect, and called forth the first encore of the evening, and his second effort "Oh, my voice is sad and low," was not less successful. His lines were spoken with careful emphasis, and the whole result was an artistic triumph.
The Aline was Miss Duglas Gordon, a lady possessing a charming voice, admirably trained and perfectly under command. Her enunciation was distinctness itself, and her action spirited and graceful. She was in every way equal to the character which she assumed, and made a very favourable impression upon the audience. Her first aria, "Oh happy young heart," gained a deserved encore; and her share of the quintette, "She will tend him, nurse him, mend him, and the other concerted music was admirably rendered. Her performance, indeed, was of a high order, and contributed in no small degree to the success of the entertainment.
In the tenor the company last night laboured under some disadvantage. At the commencement of the performance Mr. Austin, the acting manager, came before the curtain and asked the consideration of the audience for Mr. Gerard Coventry, who had assumed the character at only four hours' notice. Mr. Esmond, the regular tenor, was seized with a violent cold yesterday morning, and Mr. Coventry had to study the score in the train on his way from town in the afternoon. However, the forbearance of the audience was very little taxed, and by tonight, in all probability, he will be word and music perfect. His songs were given with spirit and taste, and the merit of his voice was at once recognized.
The chorus is particularly strong, and does not, as is the case with many comic opera companies, consist of wrinkled old women. The ladies are young, mostly pretty, and their figures are beyond reproach. The orchestra is considerably reinforced and under the conductorship of Mr. Hamilton Clarke, the instrumental portion of the piece was admirably rendered.
An excellent performance of "Trial by Jury," with Miss Gordon as the Plaintiff and Mr. Riley as the Judge, concluded one of the most successful and agreeable evenings we have enjoyed at the Royal for some time. The tour, as we have already stated, terminates with this engagement, and the company then give their minds to the rehearsal of "H.M.S. Pinafore," which Mr. Carte also takes round the provinces. May the good ship soon harbour in our expectant port.
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