Though it is not
the most familiar of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, historically
The Sorcerer must be
considered a milestone. It was their first collaboration for a
full-length comic opera. It was also their first full-length commissioned
work for their most important patron, Richard D’Oyly. In retrospect,
many consider it a second-tier operetta for the renowned duo,
but at the time it was well received. After all, its initial run
was for a very respectable 178 performances. If it weren’t for
that success, H.M.S. Pinafore would likely not have been created,
and we would have had quite a different history of English musical
show may feel a bit dated to the modern listener. It is very much
a product of its time. The plot is based on a story by Gilbert
that had previously appeared in Graphic
Magazine in December 1876. In true Gilbertian
fashion, the love potions sold by John Wellington Wells, “a dealer
in magic and spells”, wreak havoc on the inhabitants of the village
because they fall in love with the next person they see. In many
ways, this is a Victorian version of Puck playing with the hearts
of mortals in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I begins at Sir Marmaduke Poindextre’s
mansion with the betrothal of Alexis to Aline, the daughter of Lady Sangazure.
It is immediately revealed that Constance is actually in love with the elderly vicar, Dr. Daly. Then Sir Marmaduke appears to admit that he and Lady Sangazure were once madly in love, but were too discreet to
admit it in public.
Aline is now engaged to Alexis, who wants to share his sense of love with
everyone. Therefore the elderly Notary who helped with the marriage
contract engages a sorcerer to provide a love philtre.
The sorcerer, Wellington Wells, then appears and, with Alexis,
brews this and two similar phials in a large tea-pot. The contents
are then given to the villagers who, in 12 hours, will fall in
love with the first person of the opposite sex that they see.
Before long the charm is working, and the curtain falls as everyone
who has partaken of the potion falls unconscious on stage.
II starts at the same mansion that held most of the action in
Act I. However it is now night and the villagers begin to awake
and fall in love with each other. Constance falls in love with the deaf old Notary. Alexis tries to get Aline to drink the potion, but she says that her love for
him is so strong that there is no need. Additionally, she wants
no chance of change.
whole village has paired off, but there are a collection of ill-assorted
unions. At first Alexis is delighted, until his father appears
with Mrs. Partlet the Pew Opener on
his arm. At that point he reconsiders. Lady Sangazure
becomes enamored of the sorcerer himself, and Aline
changes her mind and drinks the philtre
in secret. When she recovers however, she falls in love with Dr.
Alexis realizes what havoc the sorcerer John Wellington Wells
and he have created, he convinces Wells to reverse the spell.
The downside of this is that either Alexis or Wells must die in
order to restore the former loves. There is a vote, and it is
decided unanimously that the sorcerer must pay the penalty. Wells
submits, and is put to the torch.
piece satirizes many Victorian customs and the character of the
delicate curate who receives slippers and other effeminate articles
from kind-hearted maidens. As such, though there have been some
revivals in recent years, the work’s storyline subject is dated.
Additionally many of the melodies used by Sullivan are neither
as catchy nor as familiar as those used in the later great operas
that he and Gilbert would produce. However the Vicar’s two songs
and the introductory song of John Wellington Wells are fine examples
of G&S’s collaborative work.
overture in many places is composed in a military style reminiscent
of Sullivan’s roots in military bands. The performance here is
quite good, and has been well restored. Though there are still
some traces of the age of the recording, this has no audible tape
noise and reasonable fidelity.
featured cast, from 1953, is resplendent with D’Oyly Carte stars.
Aside from Fisher Morgan, all the primary cast were leading lights
for at least a decade. Isidore Godfrey conducts with a knowledge
and confidence born of decades of specialization. Fisher Morgan
was a celebrity stalwart from 1950 through 1956. Jeffrey Skitch
was featured in nearly every Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that
was written, performing named roles from 1952 to 1965. Peter Pratt
is one of the great names in G&S comic roles, still referenced
and studied by any serious practitioner in the genre. Donald Adams
assumed most of the bass leads for D’Oyly Carte from 1953 to 1969,
and continued touring the world as a featured performer until
1996. Neville Griffiths also continued in the grand Gilbert &
Sullivan tradition by performing many leads from 1948-58, then
by joining the Sadler’s Wells Opera in various tenor roles. In
short, this particular cast represents many of the most durable
names in the Tradition.
is evident when listening to the cast why so many enjoyed such
longevity. With the exception of Anne Drummond-Grant, who sounds
at times as if she is singing well below her range, each performer
is very nicely cast. They are all prototypical examples, each
performing a stereotype that would be revisited in each successive
operetta. The performers are all polished and everything is in
its right place.
the 1953 recordings, the mastering job is notably good. Much like
the overture, there is some noise, but it is easily ignored. There
are symptoms of old tape or technologically inferior microphones
(when compared to the modern day) such as lack of the highest
fidelity. This is not uncommon in old recordings. Unless your
expectations are unrealistic, you will not be disappointed.
additional recordings from the earlier D’Oyly Carte cast are quite
remarkable in their clarity. There is noticeable hiss, and on
a rare occasion a ‘pop’ can be heard. However, these are recordings
from what amounts to the iron-age of recording. The voices are
brilliant and the recording very well restored. In fact, it was
hardly noticeable when the CD switched from the 1953 sessions
to those from 1933.
is interesting to note how stylistically the singing of the recordings
from the 1930s or 1950s is different from modern revivals. There
is a great deal more vibrato in the vocals, particularly in the
female soloist parts, than is commonly employed in modern musical
theater. It has been said that the only thing that changes more
frequently than styles in singing is styles in fashion. This is
further proof of the axiom. It is not the place of this reviewer
to decide whether modern style is superior to the former, or vice
versa. However, much as operetta is itself very
much a product of the Victorian age, so the singers are easily
placed in their respective eras.
this particular operetta is less familiar than many in the G&S
catalogue, these recordings are quite good. The casual fan will
likely skip this set due to the lack of familiarity. The true
aficionado would do well to seek it out. There are nearly two
complete recordings of The
Sorcerer here, and both are among the best of their era. Indeed,
between the two casts, one would be hard pressed to find a better
rendition. Even with the sonic legacy of aging recordings, any
true fan should consider this worthy of attention.