The Sorcerer

Arthur Sullivan

The Sorcerer

About this work

Having commissioned Trial by Jury as an afterpiece for Offenbach's La Perichole, the producer Richard D'Oyly Carte now wished to form a new opera company for the nurturing and production of native-born operettas. On June 5, 1877, he agreed to pay £210 to Gilbert and Sullivan as an advance for a two-act piece.

The result was The Sorcerer, which would become the model for all of their subsequent collaborations. Gilbert preferred that the singers have clear diction rather than large operatic voices. To the standard romantic tenor and the soubrette soprano, he added the prototypical large, aging but sonorous mezzo-soprano, the blithe-tongued comic baritone, and other recurring types.

The sorcerer's self-introduction, "My Name is John Wellington Wells," likewise introduced a new comic-opera convention, namely the patter song. There had been several great examples of this type of piece in the operatic repertory, most notably "Largo al Factotum" from Rossini's The Barber of Seville, but the use of English, with its profusion of potholes on the path to clear articulation, makes the achievement of author, composer, and ultimately performer always a thrilling experience.

The comic presentation of a country clergyman was a bold gamble, and the death of the delightful (at least to the audience) title character was also a courageous ploy in a comic operetta. The work had 175 performances, which was a respectable run. Gilbert and Sullivan had not fully developed their inimitable style in this early work, with the result that this has been one of the least popular operettas in the G&S canon, but there are enough delightful moments, clever lyrics, and inspired melodies to make this show fun to hear and see. Encouraged by the success of their partnership, Gilbert and Sullivan would begin work on a new project, H.M.S. Pinafore. In that work they would get everything right.