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The Sorcerer at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘comic opera’ The Sorcerer is a comparatively early work, coming between Trial By Jury and HMS Pinafore and first seen at the Opera Comique in London in 1877. Both the plot and the music are influenced by Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore as well as Weber’s Der Freischutz as the story involves John Wellington Wells (the venerable Richard Suart) adding a Love Potion to everyone’s tea at the nuptials of Aline (Ellie Neate) and the dreadfully upper-class Alexis (Robin Bailey) who really is totally obnoxious and one of Gilbert’s great characters. The potion is added in a scene reminiscent of the “Wolf’s Glen” scene in Freischutz.

The Sorcerer at Wilton's Music Hall. Photo credit: Bill Knight.
The Sorcerer at Wilton’s Music Hall. Photo credit: Bill Knight.

Perhaps the reason why The Sorcerer has never been as popular as some of the other Savoy Operas is because the music of the first part of the show is, on the whole, serious in style, the piece only coming alive with Wells’ introductory patter song, forty minutes in! However, the dialogue is some of Gilbert’s best, being very stylish and witty, especially as directed here for Charles Court Opera by John Savournin, who helps the highly talented cast get every ounce of humour possible without slowing the pace. In fact, the whole production has terrific energy and there is barely a weak link in the nine-strong ensemble.

Robin Bailey has a ringing, attractive tenor voice and his dialogue is beautifully “plummy”! The vicar, Dr Daly, is given an hilarious performance by Matthew Kellett as is that of Alexis’ father, Sir Marmaduke, by Matthew Palmer. Typical of a John Savournin production is that the minor roles are given more prominence than they often are, and Hugo Herman-Wilson takes full advantage of this as the Notary. Even though he has few words to speak or sing he is very amusing in role.

Soprano Ellie Neate throws off her mock coloratura with ease and has some wonderful facial expressions. Her mother, Lady Sangazure (Catrine Kirkman) is costumed (Lucy Fowler) to look like everyone’s great aunt – very “Jean Anderson”, if you are mature enough to remember her! But again, it is the two secondary female roles that steal the show. Rosie Strobel is highly amusing as Mrs Partlet, who in this staging runs a tea bar from an ancient Citroen van. Her daughter, Constance, desperate for the vicar’s attentions, is a study in how to et the most from a role that almost disappears after the start of the opera.

Savournin’s direction is most imaginative, always at the service of both librettist and composer, yet always witty and occasionally poignant.

David Eaton conducts as well as plays the piano, making it sound as if there are at least three people at the keyboard and lighting is by Aaron J Dootson. As usual Charles Court Opera seems able to use the split level stage at Wilton’s much more effectively than other companies, and the acoustics of the venue cause the singing to appear effortless and the enunciation faultless: you can hear almost every word!

It is only at Wilton’s until this Saturday 15 June, but should you be unlucky enough not to get a ticket, it is touring to Buxton in August. Highly recommended – and not just to G and S aficionados!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

The cast includes Gilbert & Sullivan specialist Richard Suart (Ko-Ko, ENO’s The Mikado) in the lead role of John Wellington Wells.  Richard has sung in all the Gilbert & Sullivan operas – except this one – so this completes the set.  He will be joined by Ellie Neate (Daughter 1 in Philip Glass’ Akhnaten and Elsie Maynard in The Yeomen of the Guard both for English National Opera) as Aline, Meriel Cunningham  (title role in Carmen, Prologue Opera, Pitti-sing in The Mikado and Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Charles Court Opera), as Constance, Matthew Kellett (Robin in Ruddigore, Charles Court Opera/Opera Holland Park, Papageno in The Magic Flute, Charles Court Opera /Iford Arts) as Dr Daly, Matthew Palmer (The Mikado and Iolanthe – Charles Court Opera) as Sir Marmaduke and Robin Bailey (Nanki-poo, The Mikado, Charles Court Opera) as Alexis (selected dates).

Director – John Savournin
Musical Director – David Eaton

Based on W. S. Gilbert’s story An Elixir of LoveThe Sorcerer, tells the tale of Alexis, a man obsessed with the idea that all should fall in love. He enlists a ‘Family Sorcerer’ of J.W. Wells & Co. in London to administer a love potion to the entire village – via a teapot – and soon mayhem ensues…

Wilton’s Music Hall and Charles Court Opera present
THE SORCERER
By Gilbert and Sullivan
11-15 June 2024
Wilton’s Music Hall, then on tour

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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