15th February 2018
Godalming Borough Hall
Type of Production
Author: Pauline Surrey
This charming piece is an early work by Gilbert and Sullivan, which premiered in 1877. A tale of English village folk, an altruistic hero, madly in love, and wishing all in the village to share this joy, a love potion which goes disastrously wrong, and of course a Happy Ending! The Sorcerer, provider of the potion, is a gem of a part, one of Gilbert’s finest and funniest creations.
As always a well-designed, thick programme was provided, full of interesting information. I always turn first to the list of past productions, to check out when this opera was last performed by GOS, and to wonder at the passage of time (2006 in this case!). Next I turn to the cast list, reassured at the inclusion of some perennial ‘stars’, and full of anticipation at seeing some new names. Excellent cast and directors’ profiles are included, as well as extensive notes on the opera, a glossary of terms (and of course, G and S operas are a marvellous source of information on the preoccupations of Victorian England!), and a list of the musical pieces, very useful as an aide-memoire.
The beautiful set gave us the imposing entrance to the Duke’s residence in the centre of the village, set in a rather nice formal garden. A huge tea-pot, some very shiny smaller ones, some menacing black cloaks, these stay in my mind. There was good use of lighting, with great effects as the spell was conjured up and mixed. So spellbound indeed was I that I can no longer describe the special effects – which after all proves how good they were! We had slick uniforms, colourful dresses for the village ladies, jolly Victorian hats and caps for the village men. There were some sumptuous dresses and stunning, huge hats for Lady Sangazure and Aline. But the piece de resistance was, of course, the exceedingly jolly outfit and moustache for the Sorcerer. What a natty suit!
The balance created between orchestra and singers was very good, thanks to excellent musical direction by David Wright. The chorus excelled themselves, especially in the Ladies Chorus of ‘With heart and with voice’ with which they greeted the arrival of Aline. All soloists were in fine voice, of course.
Director Pat O’Connell is, I believe, retiring from directing for GOS at the end of this season. He has directed all of the 13 operas in the G and S canon for GOS – a fine achievement indeed. He will not be disappointed with this performance of the Sorcerer, evidently one of his favourites. The many regulars in the audience will miss him.
The plot builds up slowly, but with the usual G and S skill of leading you to anticipate the many pitfalls to come, which you know will be later resolved as the many loose ends are happily tied up. So on the arrival of the lovelorn 19 year old Constance (Petronella Kereszturi), enamoured of the elderly vicar Dr Daly, and comforted gaily by her ‘very comely’ widowed mother, Mrs Partlet (Nora Price), one can foresee two further weddings by the final curtain, as well as the one central to the action between the noble Alexis and the wealthy Aline.
The lugubrious Dr Daly was played to perfection by Richard Arthur, who built up Dr Daly’s complex character layer by layer throughout the play, making him the most-loved fellow on the stage by the end!
Sir Marmaduke (Simon Wilson) and Lady Sangazure (Zoe Avern) were wonderful as they played the couple who had ached for each other in younger years, married elsewhere, but still hoped that now, as widowed folk, the flame would rekindle. All outward politeness and internal hope and passion, so well portrayed.
Now to our ‘hero and heroine’, the dashing young Alexis and the beautiful Aline. Alexis, played by David Menezes, commanded the stage, both his tenor voice and his acting skills were splendid. He was partnered well in these by Alexandra Lawrence, playing Aline. They really seemed to delight in each other.
A finely-tuned cameo performance from Richard Gun Cuninghame as the Notary was very amusing, and one really did feel sorry for poor Constance, who later fell for him under the spell of the love potion!
Enter, nearly at the end of Act 1, the Sorcerer himself – Gilbert and Sullivan had built up the tension to this moment, and he was certainly worth waiting for! He bounded onto the stage in his zany suit, hat and wonderful moustache, and held everyone’s attention from that moment on! A tip top performance by Andrew Ellison, with a splendid rendition of the Sorcerer’s Song: ‘My name is John Wellington Wells, I’m a dealer in magic and spells’ – it is still ringing in my head as I write!
Confusion reigns, as is to be expected of course, in Act 2 post-potion, with all the unlikely pairings. One highlight here was both the singing and the acting in the quintet ‘I rejoice that it is decided’. Another highlight was the chance to hear a second rendering of the jolly chorus: ‘The eggs and the ham and the strawberry jam, the rollicking bun and the gay Sally Lunn’, as everything was finally resolved.
These surely are the great strengths of Godalming Operatic Society – superb casting, great directing, wonderful soloists, exquisite chorus, AND the finest acting throughout to make the characters so endearing and so believable, and last long in our minds. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.