"The Sorcerer"

Potted Plot | History | First Night Critics | Did You Know? | Behind the Scenes | Original Cast

Picture of first night programme

First performed at the Opéra Comique, London, on November 17th, 1877

Revived at the Savoy Theatre, London, on October 11th, 1884.

The scene is the exterior of the Baronet, Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre's Elizabethan Mansion. It is midday.

Sir Marmaduke's son, Alexis, an officer of the Grenadier Guards, is betrothed to Aline, Lady Sangazure's daughter.

Mrs Partlet, a pew opener, arrives with her daughter, Constance. To her mother's surprise, Constance confesses that the man she loves is none other than the elderly Vicar, Dr Daly. The Dr enters and professes himself resigned to bachelordom.

Aline arrives and is greeted by her mother and Alexis. The time has come for the signing of the marriage contract.

After the ceremony all leave. Aline and Alexis are alone. Alexis is so overwhelmed by love for Aline that he would like all others to share the experience. He plans to distribute a love-philtre throughout the village. Within half an hour all that has partaken will fall for the first person they see who has also partaken.

Conveniently the supplier of the potion, John Wellington Wells, from the firm of J. W. Wells & Co, the old-established firm of family sorcerers, arrives and Alexis orders a quantity.

Aline fetches a large teapot and the potion is placed inside.

All arrive for a banquet and the tea is dispersed around. It soon becomes evident by the strange conduct of the cast that the potion is beginning to work.

Act two is set at midnight. All the peasantry are discovered asleep on the ground. They begin to wake up and true to the effects of the potion they fall immediately for the first person they see. Constance arrives, in tears, leading the elderly Notary.

"Dear friends, take pity on my lot,
My cup is not of nectar!
I long have loved - and who would not?
Our kind and reverend rector."

Sir Marmaduke, has also taken the philtre, and he enters arm-in-arm with Mrs Partlet!

When all have left the stage, John Wellington Wells arrives. He is getting worried about some of the unexpected effects of his drug. Even more so when Lady Sangazure catches sight of him and becomes immediately attracted. Mr Wells protests that he is already engaged to a maiden on a South Pacific isle. They depart.

Aline decides to drink the love-philtre herself. However she runs into Dr Daly and falls hopelessly in love with him.

Alexis arrives, embraces Aline, and is amazed when she rejects him.

Mr Wells turns up and explains that to break the spell either Alexis or himself must yield up his life. Aline protests that if they are all to be restored to their old loves and Alexis were to die then she would be left out in the cold.

A vote is taken and it is decided Mr Wells must be the victim.

All rejoice as Mr Wells disappears through a trapdoor in a burst of red fire.

Click here for a complete libretto to Patience

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Sorcerer Theatre Poster

In 1876, following the success of Trial By Jury, a comedy Opera Company was formed by D'Oyly Carte for the purpose of furthering the project of a national school of English comic opera. Gilbert and Sullivan were, of course, to be the principal artists involved although it was never the intention to foster their works exclusively. Other librettists and composers were to be encouraged. Various projects fell through and so it was that the next opera to appear at the Opéra Comique was by Gilbert and Sullivan.

For the idea of The Sorcerer Gilbert turned to one of his own short stories, The Elixir of Love, which had been published in The Graphic. It was not altogether a happy choice. The theme of havoc wrought by a love phitre was already running rampant on the English stage. Although far from original Gilbert's new use of it met with the approval of the critics.

The Sorcerer was written by Gilbert for Fred Sullivan (Arthur's brother), whose success in Trial by Jury made him a natural choice for the leading comedian in succeeding operas. Sullivan's early death made it necessary to search for another talent and it was in this opera that Gilbert formed the nucleus of that historic company of actor-singers who were to be distinguished by the title "Savoyards".

Gilbert engaged a drawing-room entertainer named George Grossmith, who had never appeared on the professional stage and a man with an uncertain ear for music named Rutland Barrington, also quite inexperienced as an actor.

Even Grossmith, himself, wondered why he was being engaged for the leading character in a comic opera. Gilbert insisted that was not the voice or looks that were to be important.

Grossmith and Barrington became inseparable from Savoy operas and made the hits of their lives in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

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First night critics



"Messrs. W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan have once again combined their efforts with the happiest result..The Sorcerer, produced at the Opéra Comique on Saturday Night before an audience that crowded the theatre in every part, achieved a genuine success, and moreover, a success in every respect deserved."


"We have not space to enumerate the numerous encores, but we are glad to say that this specimen of genuine comic opera was received with enthusiastic applause by a brilliant and crowed audience."


"A more careful first performance of a new work of its kind has rarely been witnessed. The orchestra and chorus were excellent, and quite strong enough for the size of the theatre - the former numbering nearly thirty, the latter upwards of forty.the leading singers...were also thoroughly efficient, every one of them doing all that was practicable to ensure an effective 'ensemble', and succeeding in proportion."


"Mr George Grossmith as Wellington Wells is the Sorcerestest Sorcerer that ever I did see or hear. His incantation scene, his clear and intelligible patter song, and his squatter's-run, are things which alone would repay a second visit to the Opéra Comique."


"Rutland Barrington won the chief honours of the evening, by his unforced, self-controlled, and quietly humorous acting as the Vicar. His voice is a most agreeable baritone of charming quality, well-trained and flexible."

Daily News

"Miss May was an attractive and graceful Aline, and her brilliant and extensive soprano voice told with much effect."


"(Miss May) earned her first laurels...on the vast continent of australia; and apparently, she has not yet learned to modify the scale of her accomplishments to the requirements of this very limited island."


"Mrs. Howard Paul's voice is not all that it was, but her artistic skill is sufficient to cover any defects of physical strength; she looked and acted her part most charmingly."


"There is nothing whatever in Mr. Sullivan's score which any theatrical conductor engaged at a few pounds a week could not have written equally well...The music is neither that of opera nor of opéra bouffe, but it misses the dramatic feeling of the one and the sparkle of the other, while it preserves the dull respectability of the former and the triviality of the latter."


"(Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Gilbert were) called before the lamps at the conclusion, amid applause, the genuine nature of which could never once have been mistaken. In short, the audience had been diverted from the rise of the curtain to the fall, and the laughter was incessant."

Click here to check out the reviews for the first Australian production.

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Did you know?

When D'Oyly Carte commissioned Gilbert and Sullivan to write an original comic opera he gave them no restrictions as to whom they might hire to play the parts, or how they would conduct rehearsals. The original contract stipulated that the authors should receive in advance £210 against a royalty of a little over £6 per performance, the payment to be divided equally between them.

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Behind the scenes

When Gilbert came to direct the Savoy Operas he was faced with working with singers, many of whom were without any stage experience.
He would show the actors exactly how to pronounce his dialogue often clapping to emphasize certain words.
He would also stand on the stage beside the actor repeating the words with appropriate gestures over and over again until they were delivered, as he desired them to be.

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