Music. "The Sorcerer." The Sunday Times 1877 November 25 2850: 3, cols. 4-5 [unsigned review]
When the abilities of two such conspicuous authors
as Mr. W. S. Gilbert and mr. Arthur Sullivan are united the product could
scarcely fail to be of considerable value; and when so able an author and
composer are engaged in attempting to resuscitate the fallen glories of
english opera their endeavours become all the more noteworthy on account
of the important mission which their labour has to fulfil. We have already
stated that the new comic opera, The Sorcerer was greeted with unanimous
applause on the occasion of its first representation at the Opera Comique,
and it now remains for us to examine the work closely and to see whether
the generous verdict of the public was or was not based upon a firm foundation.
Mr. Gilbert has given us some effective, if peculiar, dramatic fare, and
by the dint of his own curious cynicism and subtle wit has brought about
something like the apotheosis of the comedy of commonplace. Extravagant
as his humour is, it has the true burlesque ring, and as far as a provocative
of merriment is concerned could hardly be improved upon. Odd turns of fancy,
sly hits at conventionalities and technical mannerisms come freely from
Mr. Gilbert's pen with a result perfectly irresistible to the spectator;
but there is a flavour about the workmanship as though the author was all
the while poking fun at the audience, and laughing in his sleeve that they
could derive amusement from so unambitious – not to say trivial – a source.
It was hoped that when Mr Gilbert came before the public as the constructor
of an operatic libretto he would be serious in purpose however sportive
in fancy, and that the cause which he avowedly espoused would benefit for
his addition to the repertoire of the lyrical boards; but whatever we may
think of The Sorcerer, and however much we may regard its peculiar
vein of humour, the fact must be admitted that this is not the "comic opera"
we looked forward to. Rather does it belong to the same category as Cox
and Box, Trial by Jury, and The Zoo; its affinity to
opera being limited. Against the argument we have adduced it may be said
that The Sorcerer is an intentional skit upon the romantic opera
of the Italian stage, and that the characters of the latter are in a great
measure imitated and reproduced. Removing the glamour of the middle ages
from the plot, there is nothing more intrinsically absurd in Mr. J. Wellington
Wells, family sorcerer, &c., in raising an incantation for the brewing
of a love philtre than there is in the casting of the seven magic bullets
by Caspar in the Wolf's Glen. The difference is that one character wears
doublet and hose and the other broadcloth – not such a wide distinction
after all. Mr. Gilbert may have perfect right to assume that if therelation
of the legend of "The Free Shooter" is accepted as having any semblance
of reality, so should his story of "The Sorcerer" be taken as legitimate,
notwithstanding its nineteenth- century dresses and modern sentiment. As
a comic opera, Mr. Sullivan's Contrabandista was infinitely nearer
the mark than his latest effort; but for this his collaborator is alone
to be held responsible, the composer merely having to fill up the ooutlines
upon the canvas supplied by the librettist. What praise, therefore, we
award to The Sorcerer is given to it as a production per se, and
in no way affecting its relation to real comic opera.
As for the plot, that can be related in very few words.
The first act concludes when the people have all imbibed the bewitched tea and are beginning to feel its effects; the second opens when the potion has had its full effect and the villagers are all engaged - boys to ancient dames, and nonogenarians to mere girls.
In The Sorcerer the ballads are smoothly written and serve their
purpose of agreeably illustrating the action, though they may not dwell
long in the memory of the auditor. Perhaps the best ballads are those sung
by Dr. Daly, "Time was
It is a pity that there is no overture to The Sorcerer, its place
being taken at present by one of the movements from the Henry VIII
music. This in itself is very acceptable, but Mr. Sullivan might just as
well render his task complete and provide his opera with a proper introduction.
The interpretation of the work calls for distinct and merited praise. Curiously enough, however, the effect is produced more by the histrionic abilities than the vocal efficiency of the performers. With the exception of Miss Alice May – whose efforts need toning down by the way, her voice being too large for the Opera Comique – the singers are not conspicuous for their voices or their method. Miss May sings well, and has a very resonant voice; her powers as an actress are also equal to all the demands that are made upon them. Mr. Bentham makes a handsome and soldierly-looking guardsman as Alexis, and when he has recovered from his indisposition no doubt his intonation will be as perfect as could be wished. Mrs Howard Paul's delineation of Lady Sangazure is finished in the extreme, and though her voice shows signs of wear, it would be difficult to find an abler or more artistic representative of the character.
and Mr, R. Barrington, who makes but very little attempt to sing, scores
a great success for his consistent and well thought-out portraiture of
the comfortable old vicar. In the small rôle of Constance
Miss Giulia Warwick renders good service
the only cause for regret is that when Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur
Sullivan took English comic opera by the hand, they did not produce something
of a higher grade and worthier of their individual fame in their respective
branches of art.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 19 November 2000
updated 6 April 2001 (still not finished)