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"THE SORCERER" AT THE THEATRE ROYAL
From The Hampshire and Sussex Chronicle, 15 June, 1881.
Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera "The Sorcerer," which was first performed at the Opera Comique in 1877, was produced at this house on Monday evening with complete success. Eclipsed by the immense and prolonged popularity of the piece which succeeded it — the "H.M.S. Pinafore" of the same accomplished authors — this opera is characterised by pungent satire, original humour, and grotesque rhymes, as well as by graceful, bright, and pathetic music. It possesses, moreover, the freshness and the charm of novelty. The cast was as follows:
As "The Sorcerer" has not been previously performed in Portsmouth, we give a brief outline of the plot. The curtain rises on a scene in Sir Marmaduke's garden, where the peasantry are trolling a chorus which celebrates the betrothal of Alexis to Aline. The period of the story is the present day, but we imagine there are few places in England where the rustics dress in chimney-pot hats, white smock frocks, and knee-breeches; and if there are any villages where the lasses attire themselves in costumes so bright and picturesque and short, disclosing so amply the symmetry of shapely legs and neat ankles, we should like to discover their whereabouts. The chorus over, Mrs. Partlet, pew-opener and widow, appears on the scene with her daughter Constance who is in love with Dr. Daly, the Vicar. The young lady's passion finds vocal outlet in the aria "When he is here," and the widow, thus becoming acquainted with the object of her daughter's young affections, exclaims with business-like alacrity, "To such a union I shall not offer any opposition. Take him — he's yours;" but she is met with the pertinent rejoinder, "But, mother dear, he is not yours to give!"
Dr. Daly then appears on the scene in obtrusively clerical costume, and being in a pensive mood, relieves himself in a popular ballad, "Time was," which recalls the days when, as a fair young curate, he was adored by maidens of the noblest station, who forsook even military men for his sake. This reminiscence does him good. He brightens up to a degree that enables him to make a mild joke at the expense of Mrs. Partlet — whose daughter he will "have much pleasure in marrying –– to some strapping young fellow in her own rank of life."
We next make the acquaintance of Sir Marmaduke and his son Alexis. The former, dressed in a black velvet court suit, ribbon and star, black silk stockings, shoes and buckles, and court sword, is a charming specimen of old-fashioned, stately courtesy; the latter is a smart young officer in levée uniform. Sir Marmaduke congratulates his son on his approaching union with the beautiful Aline, who is rich, and whose lineage is sufficiently ancient, she being the seven thousand and thirty-seventh in direct descent from Helen of Troy."
Preceded by a chorus of girls Aline now enters in bridal attire, and is shortly followed by her mother, Lady Sangazure, in purple velvet robe, trimmed with silver. The betrothal takes place, and Alexis and Aline are subsequently left alone. Alexis then explains that he has long been convinced that in marriage alone is to be found the panacea for every ill, and that men and women should be coupled in matrimony without distinction of rank. He has lectured on the subject at Mechanics' Institutes, in workhouses, in beer-shops, and lunatic asylums and has been received with enthusiasm. He has pointed out to navvies the advantage of marrying ladies of rank, and not a navvy dissented. "Noble fellows," says Aline, "and what do the countesses say?" Alexis: "At present the aristocracy stand aloof." Aline: "The working man is the true Intelligence after all!" — a sentiment which was vociferously applauded in the gallery. But the plaudits were not renewed, though there was much laughter in the dress circle, when Alexis dryly answered "He is a noble creature when he is quite sober."
To carry out his principles the bridegroom has taken a desperate step. He has entered into communication with the firm of J. W. Wells and Co., the old-established Family Sorcerers in St. Mary Axe, who have invented a philtre, or love potion, which is simply infallible. Whoever drinks of it falls in love with the first lady he meets who has also tasted it, his affection is at once returned, and Alexis has determined to steep the whole village up to its lips in love, and to couple them in matrimony without distinction of age, rank, or fortune. With much terror and many misgivings on the part of Aline the Sorcerer is asked to step in. Accordingly Mr. John Wellington Wells, a dashing commercial traveller, in black frock coat, white waistcoat, light trousers, and irreproachable hat, makes his appearance. In a capital song of the rapid patter style he explains his calling:—
He explains that the Love-at-first-sight Philtre is their "leading article," every assurance in their advertisement is fully realised, and it is to be had in four-and- a-half and nine gallon casks, also in pipes and hogsheads for laying down. He allays the scruples of Aline by the assurance that the philtre is compounded on the strictest moral principles, and has no effect whatever on married people. Procuring a teapot he commences his necromantic art. In the midst of thunder and lightning and grotesque incantations and flaming liquids, the magic potion is brewed.
The villagers assemble to a banquet of muffins and toast, "the rollicking bun and the gay Sally Lunn" and the marvellous nostrum is administered in tea cups. They struggle against its effects but in vain, and the curtain of the first act fails as the charm is working. Half an hour is supposed to elapse between the acts, and when the curtain rises the effect of the decoction is visible in all directions. Everyone is in love with the wrong person.
Worst of all, Alexis sees his theories reduced to an absurdity by the mutual love of his father and that "clean and tidy widdy," Mrs. Partlet, though he is consoled somewhat by the reflection that though the lady is not young, or what the world calls beautiful, she is very clean, and, as Dr. Daly well observes, "Beauty will fade and perish, but personal cleanliness is practically undying, for it can be renewed whenever it discovers symptoms of decay." The quintette upon Mrs. Partlet's engagement is one of the most charming things in the opera. The game of cross purposes was keenly relished.
Constance falls in love with the Notary, and Aline rushes into the arms of Dr. Daly, and John Wellington Wells, the Sorcerer, tries in vain to escape from the passionate regards of Lady Sangazure. Mr. Gilbert's peculiar humour delights in these scenes. Applause and laughter alternated throughout this act. At length, finding the state of affairs intolerable, Mr. John Wellington Wells determines to break the spell. He is reluctant to die as, "we take stock next week, and it wouldn't be fair to the Co.," but there is no help for it. Seated cross-legged on the trap-door he swallows a fatal dose and disappears, like Don Giovanni, in a blaze of red fire, distributing his business cards as he goes.
The performance was excellent. Mr. A. Wilkinson as the Sorcerer may be unreservedly praised. The patter song, rendered very cleverly and with astonishing volubility, earned an emphatic encore, and in the incantation scene his grotesque gestures, distorted postures, and the comic grimness of his expression produced a richly humorous effect. The Sir Marmaduke of Mr. A. Rousbey was an artistic and highly finished impersonation; the charm and freshness of Miss Madge Stavart's voice and her graceful bearing invested the character of Lady Sangazure with much attractiveness; and in the gavotte, "Welcome joy, adieu to sadness," — the daintiest morceaux in the opera — this lady and gentleman delineated most charmingly the stately salutations, the courtly obeisances, and the measured steps of the old fashioned pair.
Miss Ethel Pierson as Aline looked and acted the part very creditably; her upper notes are sweet and powerful, and her conception of the character was excellent. Miss Bessie Armytage as Mrs. Partlet was a thorough success. Her "get up" was ingenious, and she displayed much subdued humour. To use the slang of the day she was "consummately utter," and the audience manifested its delight by exceptionally exuberant laughter. The guileless simplicity and unconscious coquetry of Constance were gracefully realised by Miss Marion Grahame, and the music allotted to her was given with refinement and feeling.
The Alexis of Mr. Cadwaladar was a tantalising performance, dramatically and vocally. In the dialogue with Aline in the first act, Mr. Gilbert's pungent satire fell flat, because its spirit was not accurately caught by Mr. Cadwaladar, whose perception of humour is evidently not keen, or it would save him front the mannerism, stiffness, and affectation to which his occasionally fine singing failed to reconcile his audience. Mr. Billington (Dr. Daly) has an imposing presence and a powerful voice, but his singing was frequently flat and out of tune, and his reading of the part was rather disappointing.
The choruses were particularly good. Recalls and encores were frequent and the piece excited very lively interest. "The Sorcerer" will be repeated every evening this week, and everyone can go to see it with the certainty of being thoroughly amused.
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