Opera Scotland

Sorcerer The Sorcerer

Music
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)

Text
W S Gilbert.

Source
Original.

Premieres
First performance: London (Opera-Comique), 17 November 1877.
Revised version: London (Savoy Theatre), 11 October 1884.
First performance in Scotland: To be confirmed (during the first tours of 1878).
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Background
The Sorcerer was the first work of the partnership after the success of the one-act Trial By Jury. It was an immediate success, and was followed by the even more successful HMS Pinafore and the stream of highly appreciated pieces presented subsequently. In recent decades, the Sorcerer has rather faded from popularity, so it is difficult for us to appreciate why it was so successful initially – to the point where the critic of The Times, in reviewing The Mikado in 1885, gave the opinion that while it was alright, and better than some of their recent works, it was not nearly as good as The Sorcerer. Posterity has not agreed with this view. However it does have a definite freshness of approach from both Gilbert and Sullivan, and the composer’s ability to parody other works and styles is useful – in this case, the idea of a magic potion which has catastrophic effects on the villagers permits a sharp dig at the celebrated gothic horrors of the Wolf’s Glen scene from Weber’s Der Freischütz, highly popular at the time. The demon Ahrimanes, referred to in the plot, is a reminder to audiences of the anti-hero of Balfe’s Satanella, which still featured in the repertory of some opera companies. This is the only one of their operettas, with the possible exception of The Yeomen of the Guard, in which a character actually dies at the end.

Main Characters
Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, an elderly Baronet (bass)
Alexis, his son, of the Grenadier Guards (tenor)
Lady Sangazure, a Lady of Ancient Lineage (contralto)
Aline, her daughter, betrothed to Alexis (soprano)
John Wellington Wells, of J W Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers (baritone)
Dr Daly, Vicar of Ploverleigh (bass-baritone)
Mrs Partlet, a pew opener (contralto)
Constance, her daughter (soprano)
A Notary (bass)

Plot Summary
The opera is located in the village of Ploverleigh, a pleasant pastoral location, at a period reminiscent of Jane Austen. Alexis and Aline are to marry. Sir Marmaduke is reminded of his former infatuation for Aline’s mother (feelings mutual). Constance loves Dr Daly (feelings mutual). Alexis has decided to make everyone in the village happy by administering a love potion, for which he has summoned Mr Wells from London. The Sorcerer is able to provide an elixir, to be administered to the populace via the tea urn, the effect of which will be firstly to induce sleep and secondly on waking instantly to love the first person one sees. Married people are immune, and Lady S and other respectable persons will be carried home in an appropriatly genteel manner. Aline avoids drinking the tea until Alexis insists that she drink the potion too. It all goes  badly wrong.


RECORDINGS

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1966

Conductor: Isidore Godfrey
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Valerie Masterson (Aline), Christene Palmer (Lady Sangazure), David Palmer (Alexis),
John Reed (Mr Wells), Alan Styler (Dr Daly), Donald Adams (Sir Marmaduke).

The D’Oyly Carte Company recorded The Sorcerer in stereo at a time when it was planning to mount the piece after a long absence from the repertoire. The singers were therefore not as accustomed to their roles as if they had been singing them for years. Valerie Masterson was making her first recording of a major role (having done Melissa in Princess Ida the year before, and the quality of her voice and artistry already sets her apart from the others. The other company regulars also seem to enjoy turning to something unfamiliar.

UNIVERSAL (1 DVD) Sung in English Recorded 1982

Conductor: Alexander Faris, Director: Steven Pimlott
London Symphony Orchestra
Nan Christie (Aline), Nuala Willis (Lady Sangazure), Alexander Oliver (Alexis),
Clive Revill (Mr Wells), David Kernan (Dr Daly), Donald Adams (Sir Marmaduke).

It was unfortunate that this generally excellent series of videos of G & S didn’t stretch to Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke, but we must be grateful that they did include rarities such as Cox and Box and The Sorcerer, rather than merely playing safe. The choice of directors and singers was also enterprising, and Steven Pimlott an excellent choice. His direction is essentially traditional and lets a piece that is essentially unfamiliar to come across well. As with the entire series, Alexander Faris applies his years of experience in this repertoire to produce lively and stylish playing from the LSO. The cast is uniformly excellent, and David Kernan’s unusual reading of Dr Daly is a notable success from an actor previously known more for his Sondheim than his Sullivan.

NAXOS (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1953

Conductor: Isidore Godfrey
New Symphony Orchestra
Muriel Harding (Aline), Ann Drummond-Grant (Lady Sangazure), Neville Griffiths (Alexis),
Peter Pratt (Mr Wells), Jeffrey Skitch (Dr Daly), Fisher Morgan (Sir Marmaduke).

The D’Oyly Carte Company recorded excerpts from The Sorcerer in 1933, before setting down a musically complete version twenty years later, not long before it disappeared from the repertoire due to the accidental destruction of the sets. This bargain issue from Naxos includes both recordings on the two discs, and is therefore excellent value, as well as being enjoyable performances. Inevitably, the sound quality is nothing like as good as on the more recent version, but Godfrey’s conducting is actually livelier than in the modern set, when he was a good deal older. In 1953, Donald Adams, at the start of a long career, takes the small role of the Notary, while Mrs Adams (Muriel Harding) and the other company regulars are excellent.

The Cast

Alexis
 of the Grenadier Guards, Sir Marmaduke's Son
Aline
 Lady Sangazure's Daughter, betrothed to Alexis
Annabella, Lady Sangazure
 a Lady of Ancient Lineage
Constance
 Mrs Partlet's Daughter
Dr Daly
 Vicar of Ploverleigh
John Wellington Wells
 of J W Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers
Mrs Partlet
 a Pew-Opener
Notary
 
Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre
 an elderly Baronet

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