The Sorcerer History
Original Programme 1877
The Sorcerer is a two-act comic opera, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It was the British duo's third operatic collaboration. The plot of The Sorcerer is based on a Christmas story, An Elixir of Love, that Gilbert wrote for The Graphic magazine. A young man, Alexis, is obsessed with idea of love levelling all ranks and social distinctions. To promote his beliefs, he invites the proprietor of J. W. Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers, to brew a love potion. This causes everyone in the village to fall in love with the first person they see and results in the pairing of comically mismatched couples. In the end, Wells must sacrifice himself to break the spell.
The opera opened on 17 November 1877 at the Opera Comique in London, where it ran for 178 performances. It was considered a success by the standards of that time and encouraged the collaborators to write their next opera, H.M.S. Pinafore. The Sorcerer was revised for an 1884 revival, and it is in that version that it is usually performed today. The Sorcerer was the first Savoy opera for which the author and composer had nearly total control over the production and the selection of cast. Several of the actors chosen went on on to create principal roles in most of the later Gilbert and Sullivan operas. It was their first opera to use all the major character types and typical range of songs that would appear in their later collaborations, such as comic duets, a patter song, a contrapuntal double chorus, a tenor and soprano love duet, a soprano showpiece and so forth.
The modest success of The Sorcerer was overshadowed by the extraordinary popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan's later collaborations, and the opera remains one of the team's less popular ones. The satire in the piece concerns Victorian-era class distinctions and operatic conventions with which modern audiences are less familiar. Nevertheless, the opera was important to the development of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration and is still regularly played.
The Sorcerer Synopsis
The villagers of Ploverleigh are preparing to celebrate the betrothal of Alexis Pointdextre, the son of the local baronet, and the blue-blooded Aline Sangazure ("Ring forth, ye bells"). Only a young village maiden named Constance Partlet seems unwilling to join in the happy mood, and we learn as she tells her mother that she is secretly in love with the local vicar, Dr. Daly ("When he is here, I sigh with pleasure"); and the cleric himself promptly soliloquises that he has been unlucky in love ("The air is charged with amatory numbers"). However, despite Mrs. Partlet's best attempts at matchmaking, the middle-aged Dr. Daly seems unable to conceive that a young girl like Constance would be interested in him.
Alexis and Aline arrive ("With heart and with voice"), and it soon becomes clear that his widower father Sir Marmaduke and her widowed mother Lady Sangazure are concealing long-held feelings for one another, which propriety however demands remain hidden ("Welcome joy, adieu to sadness"). The betrothal ceremony is carried out, and left alone together Alexis reveals to his fiancée his plans for practical implementation of his principle that love should unite all classes and ranks ("Love feeds on many kinds of food, I know"). He has invited a representative from a respectable London firm of sorcerers to Ploverleigh ("My name is John Wellington Wells"). Aline has misgivings about hiring a real sorcerer. Alexis instructs Wells to prepare a batch of love potion sufficient to affect the entire village, except that on married people, it will have no effect.
Wells mixes the potion, assisted by sprites, fiends, imps, demons, ghosts and other fearsome magical beings in an incantation ("Sprites of earth and air"). The village gathers for the wedding feast ("Now to the Banquet we Press"), and the potion is added to a teapot. All of the villagers, save Alexis, Aline and Wells, drink it and, after experiencing some hallucinations ("Oh, marvellous illusion"), they fall unconscious.
At midnight that night ("'Tis twelve, I think"), the villagers awake and, under the influence of the potion, each falls in love with the first person of the opposite sex that they see ("Why, where be Oi"). All of the matches thus made are highly and comically unsuitable; Constance, for example, loves the ancient notary who performed the betrothal ("Dear friends, take pity on my lot"). However, Alexis is pleased with the results, and now asserts that he and Aline should drink the potion themselves to seal their own love. Aline is hurt by his lack of trust and refuses, offending him ("Thou hast the power thy vaunted love"). Alexis is distracted, however, by the revelation of his upper-class father having fallen for the lower-class Mrs Partlet, but he determines to make the best of this union ("I rejoice that it's decided").
Wells, meanwhile, is regretting the results that his magic has caused, and regrets them still more when the fearsome Lady Sangazure fixes on him as the object of her affections ("Oh, I have wrought much evil with my spells"). Aline decides to yield to Alexis' persuasion and drinks the potion without telling Alexis. Upon awaking, she inadvertently meets Dr. Daly first and falls in love with him ("Oh, joyous boon"). Alexis desperately appeals to Wells as to how the effects of the spell can be reversed. It turns out that this requires that either Alexis or Wells himself yield up his life to Ahrimanes. The people of Ploverleigh rally against the outsider from London and Wells, resignedly, bids farewell and is swallowed up by the underworld in a burst of flames ("Or he or I must die"). The spell broken, the villagers pair off according to their true feelings, and celebrate with another feast (reprise of "Now to the banquet we press").
ENOS Sorcerer Productions