On Saturday a new opera was produced here, entitled "The Sorceror,"
the libretto by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, the music by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, who,
it will be remembered, were coadjutors in the very successful piece "Trial
by Jury." The work now referred to is in two acts, the leading incidents
of the book being the absurd effects produced by the administration of
a philtre, by which all the inhabitants of the rural village of Ploverleigh
are coupled as lovers, in the most incongruous manner – the old with the
young, the handsome with the ugly, the rich with the poor, &c. This
is the act of Alexis (son of the Baronet, Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre), who
is betrothed to Aline (daughter of the aristocratic Lady Sangazure), the
young fiancée being reluctantly induced by her lover to taste the
potion, in order, as he believes, to ensure the permanence of their attachment.
The result, however, is the reverse of this, for Aline immediately falls
desperately in love with the sentimental Dr. Daly, Vicar of the village
of Ploverleigh, among the previous effects of the potion having been the
association of the proud Baronet with Mrs. Partlet, the pew-opener, whose
pretty young daughter falls in love with the deaf old Notary; the courtly
Lady Sangazure being fascinated with the agent from whom the philtre has
been obtained. This is a certain John Wellington Wells, of the firm of
J. W. Wells and Co., Family Sorcerers, of St. Mary-axe. In this character
the combination of the cockney tradesman with the purveyor of necromantic
charms is a piece of burlesque of the most violent absurdity, the piece,
indeed, being farcical throughout. The horror of this last victim – "hoist
with his own petard" – leads to the catastrophe. Matters can only be set
right by the sacrifice of either himself or Alexis; and, the general voice
being in favour of the preservation of the latter, the supplyer of the
potion sinks resignedly through a trap in the midst of red fire.
Forced as are these incidents, they may be accepted on account of the large amount of fun evolved from them; indeed, the piece is provocative of hearty laughter throughout; and abounds in pungent and good-humoured satire, one strong point being the reversal of the theory enunciated by the romantic Alexis, who, in the matter of marriage, wishes to "break down the artificial barriers of rank, wealth, education, age, beauty, habits, taste, and temper." On this subject he says he has lectured "at mechanics' institutes, and the mechanics were unanimously in favour of my views; I have preached in workhouses, beershops, and lunatic asylums, and I have been received with enthusiasm; I have addressed navvies on the advantages that would accrue to them if they married wealthy ladies of rank, and not a navvy dissented." Satirical hits are also aimed at some of the conventionalities of opera, foreign and English. Thus we have a caricature contract scene, a burlesque incantation scene, a "Tea-Cup Brindisi" (during the administration of the potion), and frequent use of the recitative form showing the absurdity of that declamatory style in association with a colloquial text of common-place phrases, such as is found in a certain class of English opera. Mr. Gilbert's book is based on a Christmas tale previously written by him.
Mr. Sullivan has entered fully into the spirit of the fun – as shown in several instances, among others in the capital patter-song in which J. W. Wells enumerates the supernatural articles supplied by the firm.Delivered with genuine humour by Mr. G. Grossmith, this song had to be repeated. The mock solemnity of the preceding contract scene is much heightened by some effective touches of the grandiose style; the "Incantation" being a good bit of musical burlesque. Very good indeed is the duet, "Welcome joy," between Lady Sangazure and the Baronet, their stilted courtesy being very successfully expressed in the music. It was well sung and acted by Mrs. Howard Paul and Mr. Temple, and was one of the encores of the evening; another repetition having been, in an earlier part of the opera, the sentimental ballad for Aline, "Oh! happy young heart." This was sung with brilliant voice and execution by Miss Alice May. This piece is in the genuine sentimental style, of which there are several specimens assigned to other chatacters, some of which, if not all, will doubtless become popular in drawing-rooms. To revert to the comic aspect of the music, we may refer to the pseudo-sentimental song of Dr. Daly, in which he laments the several refusals he has met with long ago in his attempts at a matrimonial engagement, the ladies' replies having been, "I'm engaged to So-and-So" – the reiteration of the words "so-and-so" forming the refrain of the song, interspersed with a faint tootle-too on the flageolet with which the Vicar is solacing his melancholy. Delivered as this was, by Mr. Rutland Barrington, with a sustained calm pensiveness, it formed a rich bit of quiet humour. Indeed, this gentleman's representation of the character was throughout excellent in appearance, make-up, and perfect maintenance of bland melancholy.
As a piece of structural music, the finale of the first act is the best, as it is the most important, portion of the opera. In interest of detail and effective combination of chorus and solo voices it is excellent, and worthy of a work of more serious character. Next to this, perhaps, in intrinsic musical interest is the beautiful quintet in the second act. This pleased so greatly as to necessitate its repetition. Among several short choral pieces, the chorus of girls, "With heart and with voice," was prominent from its bright melodiousness.
We have incidentally spoken of the performances of some of the principals, and have to add a line or two in praise of Miss Giulia Warwick, who was an excellent representative of Constance, the Pew-opener's daughter, secretly in love with the Vicar. The lady named gave her arias, "When he is here" and "I love him very dearly," with much effect. Of Miss May we have already spoken, but may add that her fine soprano voice and her co-operation generally formed an important feature in the performance of the opera. Mr. Bentham, as Alexis, sang well, although indisposed; Miss Everard was a good representative of the demure pew-opener, the small part of the deaf old notary having been satisfactorily sustained by Mr. Clifton. Mr. Grossmith made his stage début on this occasion, with complete success. In short, the ensemble was excellent, including the chorus-singing, which was unusually good.
The opera has been extremely well placed on the stage; two very pretty scenes are supplied by Messrs. Gordon and Harford; the costumes are excellent and appropriate; and the good stage management testifies to the efficiency of Mr. Charles Harris in that department. The success of the opera was most decided.
Mr. Sullivan conducted, and he and Mr. Gilbert were called forward at the end of the performance.
"The Sorceress" was preceded by Mr. Alfred Cellier's bright little operetta "Dora's Dream," the two lovers (there are no other characters) having been well represented by Miss Giulia Warwick and Mr. Temple. Mr Cellier conducted.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 30 November 2000
updated 18 March 2007