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The Sorcerer is a two-act comic opera, with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It opened on November 17, 1877 at the Opera Comique in the Strand in London, where it ran for 178 performances. For the 1884 revival, Gilbert and Sullivan abridged the ending to Act I, and provided a new opening to Act II, and it is in this form that the work is usually presented today.
The first American production was at the Broadway Theatre in New York on February 21, 1879, for a run of just 20 performances. There were later professional revivals in New York, none of them under D'Oyly Carte auspices, in 1879, 1882, and 1883.
The Sorcerer was Gilbert and Sullivan's third opera together. In 1871, they had produced Thespis, an extravaganza for the holiday season that did not lead immediately to any further collaboration. But after the early success of their oneÂ-act opera Trial by Jury in 1875, producer Richard D'Oyly Carte organized a syndicate to produce a fullÂ length work. Gilbert expanded on his own short story, "The Elixir of Love," and also used ideas from his earlier Bab Ballads, creating a plot about a magic love potion that â€“ as often occurs in opera â€“ causes everyone to fall in love with the wrong partner.
The success of The Sorcerer, although modest, encouraged Carte and the authors to continue their collaboration the following year with H.M.S. Pinafore, the work that established the Gilbert and Sullivan phenomenon that produced one hit after another throughout the 1880s â€“ the series known as the Savoy Operas.
The opera was revived in 1884 and again in 1898. In the early years of the 20th century, however, it gradually fell out of favour. Between the mid-1930s and the early 1970s, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company did not perform it at all, and many amateur companies followed suit. A 1971 revival brought new life to the work, and it has now joined the regular rotation of most G&S performing groups.
The Sorcerer draws on a theatrical tradition that, today, is less accessible to modern audiences than the more famous G&S works starting with Pinafore. It satirizes early Victorian customs and various theatrical conventions, and it does not include the broad political satire that would feature in many of Gilbert's later librettos.
The villagers of Ploverleigh are preparing to celebrate the betrothal of Alexis Pointdextre, the son of the local squire, and the blue-blooded (literally!) 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 strong 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 fiancÃ©e 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"), who prepares a batch of love potion with a fearsome incantation ("Sprites of earth and air"). The potion is added to the teapot for the feast on the village green, and all the villagers, save Alexis, Aline and Wells, drink it and fall unconscious ("Oh, marvellous illusion").
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").
A ballad for Lady Sangazure, "In days gone by," originally came immediately after "My child, I join in these congratulations." It was deleted after opening night and the music is now lost, though the lyrics survive. The remaing recitative ends somewhat abruptly, without resolving to the tonic.
Alexis's Act II ballad ("Thou hast the power") was revised, with the refrain changed from common time to waltz time. Although performed on opening night, it was not included in the original vocal score. Available evidence suggests that the ballad was dropped from the opera, but later reinstated during the original run (Hulme 1984, p. 3).
For the 1884 revival, the opera underwent extensive revisions: The length of time between the acts was altered from half-an-hour to twelve hours, resulting in a different ending to Act I and a complete rewrite of the Act II opening. Whereas in 1877 the chorus succeeded in hiding the effects of the tea after "Oh marvellous illusion," and the finale worked its way back to the tea-cup brindisi, in the revised version they are unable to regain their senses, and the act ends with everyone falling over after "Oh marvellous illusion."
The original Act II started off with "Happy are we in our loving frivolity" â€“ a pageant of mismatched couples taking place half-an-hour after the end of Act I. The revision changed the setting to nighttime, with a quiet trio for Alexis, Aline and John Wellington Wells whilst the villagers remain asleep, before they wake up with a rustic chorus in broad Cornish accents and pair up. There are also minor changes to the music leading into "Dear friends take pity on my lot," with the key of that piece lowered to accommodate the 1884 Constance.
These revisions were not, however, done very carefully. The Act I Finale still says "Their hearts will melt in half-an-hour / Then will be felt the potion's power." Similarly, Aline drinks the potion in Act II, but then falls in love with Dr. Daly immediately, instead of falling asleep for twelve hours as the revisions would require.
The Sorcerer was the first of Gilbert and Sullivan's full-length operas to be revived. Other than The Mikado, it also had a second London revival sooner than any of their other works, in 1898. In the 20th century, The Sorcerer gradually went out of style. The D'Oyly Carte's principal repertory company dropped it in 1901, and it did not return until 1916, making its first professional London appearance in over twenty years in 1919. It made only intermittent appearances during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1938 and 1939, it was performed only in the company's London seasons, and only for a handful of performances.
During the winter of 1941â€“41, the scenery and costumes for The Sorcerer and three other operas were destroyed in enemy action. The opera was not revived professionally until March 29, 1970. Thereafter, it was included in the D'Oyly Carte repertory through the 1975 centenary season, then dropped for several years, then restored for the company's last several seasons before it closed in 1982.
The following table summarises the main London productions of The Sorcerer during Gilbert and Sullivan's lifetimes:
The following tables show the casts of the principal original productions and D'Oyly Carte Opera Company touring repertory at various times through to the company's 1982 closure: