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William Schwenk GILBERT (1836-1911) and Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)

The Sorcerer
(1877): Overture [5:34]; Act I [41:57]; Act II, part 1 [14:11]; Act II, part 2 [20:42]
Fisher Morgan – Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre
Neville Griffiths – Alexis
Jeffrey Skitch – Dr. Daly
Donald Adams – Notary
Peter Pratt – John Wellington Wells
Ann Drummond-Grant – Lady Sangazure
Muriel Harding – Aline
Beryl Dixon - Mrs. Partlett
Yvonne Dean – Constance
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company Chorus
New Symphony Orchestra/Isidore Godfrey
Recorded 8th, 10th, 16th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 29th and 30th July, 1953, London, UK ADD

Highlights from The Sorcerer – 1933 Recording [37:33]
Darrell Fancourt – Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre
Derek Oldham – Alexis
Leslie Rands – Dr. Daly
Stuart Robertson – Notary
George Baker – John Wellington Wells
Dorothy Gill – Lady Sangazure
Muriel Dickson – Aline
Anna Bethell - Mrs. Partlett
Alice MoxonConstance
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company Chorus and Orchestra/Isidore Godfrey
Recorded
12th-13th September 1933, London, UK. ADD
NAXOS 8.110785-86 [61:42 + 58:15]

The first Decca series of recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan were made in the late ’forties and early ’fifties. This then was in the early days of LPs and just prior to the era of stereo. The conductor on all of these recordings was the inimitable Isidore Godfrey, perhaps the finest Gilbert and Sullivan conductor of his generation. Of course, opinions vary as to the importance of this work in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon of comic operas. Considering that The Sorcerer was the first successful full length G&S opera (composed in 1877), it is remarkably assured and well constructed. Thomas Dunhill in his critical appreciation of Sullivan’s Comic Operas (1928) does not rate it highly, but I disagree. All the ingredients of the later "favourite numbers" are there - the gavotte Welcome joy! Adieu to sadness looks forward to the gavotte in Act 2 of The Gondoliers, for example, and the patter song My name is John Wellington Wells is as good as any of the later songs.

The plot is rather predictable, but amusing nonetheless, when two lovers, Alexis and Aline, call on the family sorcerer John Wellington Wells to conjure up a love potion to ensure that the unsuspecting villagers fall as deeply in love as they are … with the obvious comic consequences. The scene in the second act when Lady Sangazure, under the love potion’s spell, meets and falls madly in love with Wells himself is expertly handled. He is desperate to avoid her attentions, a little reminiscent of Koko and Katisha in the second act of The Mikado, and in the end he has to pay the ultimate price for the many mix-ups and remove the spell... a sad ending for the comic baritone, much in the spirit of the later Yeomen of the Guard. Unfortunately Sullivan doesn’t rise to the occasion at this point, and misses the chance to put his musical mark on the Sorcerer’s demise. What a contrast to the masterly ending of Yeomen!

Whilst the sound of the 1953 mono recording is enjoyable, it is a little boxy and of limited frequency range. The recording certainly shows its age as far as the diction of the chorus and soloists is concerned (listen to the opening chorus and Beryl Dixon’s (Mrs. Partlet) recitative and the pronunciation of Lady Sangazure!) In general, however, the singing of both soloists and chorus is exemplary and Godfrey paces the work extremely well with wonderfully crisp tempi. The above-mentioned gavotte is expertly performed by Fisher Morgan (Sir Marmaduke) and Ann Drummond-Grant (Lady Sangazure). Unfortunately Neville Griffiths (Alexis) seems to have been suffering from a severe head cold during the recording sessions - a strong and slightly unpleasant nasal tone pervades his first and second act solos Love feeds on many kinds of food and Thou hast the power. Peter Pratt, not as well known as George Baker, Martyn Green or John Reed in the ‘patter song’ roles, takes the part of John Wellington Wells, the eponymous Sorcerer, and does it justice. Sullivan’s orchestration for the First act Incantation scene is masterly, particularly considering the limited orchestral resources he had available, and provides a foretaste of When the night wind howls in Ruddigore. The duet by Neville Griffiths and Muriel Harding Oh love, true love (Alexis and Aline) in the Finale of Act 1 is beautiful, and one merely regrets that it isn’t longer! The second act contains only about half an hour of music so it is a shame that we do not have the spoken dialogue. Jeffrey Skitch (Dr. Daly) is superb in his solo O my voice is sad and low where he bemoans the fact that he is the only person not to have found a love-potion-inspired partner – that is, until he unexpectedly meets Aline who has taken the potion and is on her way to meet Alexis in the hope of ensuring life long love! Eventually, with the Sorcerer’s demise the rightful partnerships are restored and the opera finishes with a jolly reprise of the first act chorus Now to the banquet we press. Interestingly, the second CD also contains an historical recording of excerpts from the opera, also conducted by Godfrey, made in 1933, which sounds remarkably good and is a welcome filler.

What of the competition? There is a more modern (1966) stereo recording of excellent quality on Decca, with the D’Oyly Carte company and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, again conducted by Isidore Godfrey. It was recorded under the direction of Bridget D’Oyly Carte. The cast is excellent (including the wonderful Valerie Masterson as Aline, John Reed as Wells and Donald Adams as Sir Marmaduke; interestingly he sings the small part of the Notary in the present recording). Since it is often available at a reduced price and offers a more modern sound with excellent performances it would be my recommended version. It also includes the only recording of The Zoo, a potboiler and curtain raiser that Sullivan and Rowe produced in 1875 but was not published and is rarely performed.

Em Marshall

see also reviews by Ray Walker and Patrick Gary

 



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