On this day…..

…….in 1877 Gilbert and Sullivan presented their operetta The Sorcerer to a packed house at the Opera Comique.

Image of John Wellington Wells

The Sorcerer was Gilbert and Sullivan’s third collaboration and was based on a short story by W.S Gilbert entitled The Elixir of Love.  The story centres on Alexis Pointdextre and his belief that love levels all rank, so strong a belief that he enlists the help of a sorcerer to provide him with a love potion.  Naturally things don’t quite go accordingly to plan and hilarity ensues when an entire village falls in love with the first person they, not to mention some marked confusion between a “filter” and a “philtre”.

The Sorcerer received good reviews initially but quickly fell out of favour and remains one of the less well known Savoy Operas, being overshadowed by the later successes.  The Sorcerer, unlike some of the more popular works, draws largely on satire of social convention and pastoral opera and loses some of the humour in translation for modern audiences.

The Sorcerer did however lay out the standard for later Gilbert and Sullivan productions in terms of appearance of regular roles; a comic baritone with a patter song, a tenor and soprano as lovers, and comic roles for a bass-baritone and a contralto.

Whilst less regularly performed than some of the more famous works, The Sorcerer has strong libretto and some wonderful songs, not least the fantastic “My Name is John Wellington Wells” performed by the ultimately doomed sorcerer.  Nevertheless, Isaac Asimov wrote an homage to The Sorcerer in his short story The Up to Date Sorcerer.

As with all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the impact on popular culture is marked.  Opera Della Luna veered from tradition with their 2009 performance of The Sorcerer when rather than Aline falling for Dr Daly, it is the male lead Alexis who sees the curate Dr Daly and falls madly in love thanks not in part to his own meddling!

Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed The Sorcerer on five occasions, most recently in 2011 which marked Richard Thompson’s last performance with Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society as the Sorcerer himself.

 

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Oh here is love, and here is truth

Well as it is Valentine’s Day, I thought what could be more appropriate than discussing the theme of love in the Savoy Operas.  It cannot be denied that love features heavily in all of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works – whether successful or unrequited – so here are my favourite Gilbert and Sullivan love themed songs!

Hearts Bingley G&S

5.  The Sorcerer – Thou Hast the Power Thy Vaunted Love

Possibly a bit of a cheat this one, as it certainly isn’t a love ballad and I actually find Alexis Pointdextre remarkably insufferable.  In this number Alexis berates Aline for not wanting to take a love philtre.   However the music is utterly beautiful and I’m a sucker for a gloriously sung tenor ballad.  

4.  H.M.S. Pinafore – The Hours Creep on a Pace

This is such a lovely song, with Josephine desperately trying to reconcile her love for Ralph Rackstraw with her duty to her father, the ship’s Captain.  As the song progresses you can feel Josephine’s lack of enthusiasm for Ralph’s lowly station, and the fact she might end up eating dinner “served up in a pudding basin”!  The whole song is made by the single line “and yet he is so wondrous fair” when you really feel her maidenly dilemma.

3.  The Pirates of Penzance – Oh Here is Love

A rather sweet little number, when Mabel has agreed to wait for Frederick until he comes of age on 29th February 1940.   The emotion in the song is truly obvious and its just a genuinely lovely moment in what is on the main a comedy.

2.  The Gondoliers – On the Day When I Was Wedded

I had to include this one – The Gondoliers is my absolute favourite of all the Savoy Operas.  This song absolutely slays me – with the formidable Duchess of Plaza-Toro giving lessons to her daughter on how to love a man you don’t and how she became the wife and husband in the relationship to her complete satisfaction.

1. Iolanthe – None Shall Part Us From Each Other

This has just simply the most beautiful lyrics, with Phyliss and Strephon declaring their love for each other that won’t be beaten despite the fact she is human and he is half a fairy.

I am not a massive fan of Iolanthe, but this is probably my all time favourite Gilbert and Sullivan song.

 

 

 

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