Words by W. S. Gilbert & Music by Arthur Sullivan


‘The Sorcerer’ was Gilbert and Sullivan’s first full length successful operetta, following the success of the one act piece ‘Trial by Jury’. ‘The Sorcerer’ laid the foundation for the success of all the partnership’s later rather better known operettas like ‘H. M. S. Pinafore’, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, ‘Iolanthe’, ‘The Mikado’, ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ and ‘The Gondoliers’.


Most of the G&S operettas have an alternative name. For example ‘The Mikado’ is also known as ‘The Town of Titipu’ but ‘The Sorcerer’ is known simply as ‘The Sorcerer’.


‘The Sorcerer’ is the tale of how with the best of intentions, an English aristocrat, Alexis of the Grenadier Guards, through the use of a love potion or ‘philtre’ from the old established firm of London magicians, J. Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers, gets all sorts of unlikely people to fall madly in love with one another. Unfortunately this includes his fiancee, Aline, who falls for the elderly vicar Dr. Daly. After many comic twists and turns such as when Aline’s mother Lady Sangazure falls in love with Mr. Wells, all is eventually happily resolved. Well for all except perhaps Mr. Wells the magician himself, who in order to break the power of the spell he has cast must make a spectacular descent into Hades to join his master Ahrimanes, never to return.


A rarely remarked on aspect of ‘The Sorcerer’ is the usual combination of two different roles, the 'Lawyer' [presumably a Solicitor] and the 'Notary' [not necessarily a Solicitor] into one role, generally called the 'Notary'. In the Vocal Score the 'Lawyer' appears in Act 1 to sing the leading part in No. 10. “All is prepared” and then disappears not to appear again as such. The 'Notary' first appears in the Act 1 Finale and has an important part in the beginning of Act 2 in No. 16. singing “I am a very deaf old man”. The Lawyer’s part is scored for a Tenor/Baritone and the Notary’s for a Baritone/Base so a significant vocal range - from a D Natural down to a Bottom E Flat - is required of a performer singing both the roles. It is not clear why Gilbert introduced both roles. The legal function of a Notary is primarily to authenticate documents and transactions and is a very ancient one – at one time appointment was on papal authority. It would not however necessarily cover the drawing up of a marriage contract as such. The marriage contract referred to in No. 10. “All is prepared” would most likely have been drawn up by a family solicitor [a "lawyer"] and possibly authenticated by a Notary, so there is a kind of logic in introducing both roles into the operetta, as Gilbert as a lawyer himself must presumably have been aware.


‘The Sorcerer’ opened on 17th November 1877 at the Opera Comique Theatre just off the Strand in London and ran for 178 performances. When first performed it had no overture – Sullivan simply used the dance movement from his incidental music to Shakespeare’s ‘King Henry VIII’. A proper overture was introduced with the 1884 revival when substantial changes were also made to Act 2.

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