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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

Concert review: Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer, York Opera, Wednesday 3 July 2024

The Sorcerer is a two-act opera based on an earlier Sir William Schwenck Gilbert Christmas story, The Elixir of Love, and is a typical poke in the eye satire on Victorian England’s class-ridden society. It is the third operatic collaboration, and certainly not their best – much of the second half is dramatically pretty dull. But there is no denying that York Opera’s production of The Sorcerer was absolutely wonderful. And with a cast including John Soper (Stage Director and Set Design), Maggie Soper (Costume Design) and Musical Director Alasdair Jamieson, well it just had to be, didn’t it.


The opening orchestral overture was pretty much spot on: crisp, articulate playing, generating a quiet confidence for the singers to draw from. And they did. The double chorus Ring forth, ye bells was rhythmically tight and full of joie de vivre. And why not,  love is in the air and the common villagers of Ploverleigh are preparing to celebrate the betrothal of Alexis Pointdextre (Hamish Brown, tenor) – Grenadier Guards, son of local baronet Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre (Ian Thompson-Smith, baritone) and a total bore to boot, to the blue-blooded Aline Sangazure (Alexandra Mather, soprano) – daughter of aristocratic Lady Sangazure (Rebecca Smith, contralto). A match made in heaven.


Constance (Emma Burke, soprano) is not a happy bunny as she is secretly in love with the local vicar Daly (Christopher Charlton-Mathews, baritone). However, after the first sighting of said vicar chasing butterflies with a butterfly net, a brilliantly comic scene which could have been choreographed by Sir Ed Davey, one did have to question why? Anyway, that’s enough of the introductions.


Emma Burke’s When he is here, I sigh with pleasure was simply delightful: lovely tone, crystal-clear diction. It was just a pity that there were so few opportunities here for Ms Burke to shine. The response from Mr Charlton-Mathews - a sweet melancholic The air is charged with amatory numbers and Time was when Love and I were well acquainted were terrific. His comic timing and mannerisms were infectious. As indeed they proved to be throughout. Following a crisply choreographed dance and a touching female chorus With heart and with voice we arrived at the vocal high point, literally. Alexandra Mather (Aline) delivered a powerful Happy Young Heart with relatively eyewatering high notes.


Enter Sir Marmaduke – with a lineage going back to Helen of Troy, he claims, and Lady Sangazure). They clearly have history, not as far back as Homer’s Illiad as revealed in their tender love duet, Welcome Joy, adieu to sadness.


Enter Alexis who tells his blue-rinsed fiancée that love has the power to unite all classes and ranks (‘without rank, age or fortune…’) in a passionate Love feeds on many kinds of food, I know. He decides to implement this musical ‘levelling-up’ policy via an elixir or love potion from the entirely respectable London firm, J.W.Wells & Co. Family Sorcerers. And it is just as well he did as it introduced a show-stealing Anthony Gardner (baritone)  in the form of John Wellington Wells. Mr Gardner’s spiky, animated and wonderfully sung My name is John Wellington Wells followed by the theatrical incantation Sprites of Earth and Air (with Alexandra Mather, Hamish Brown and Chorus) was the opera highlight. Of course it was. His pantomime villain reminded me of the incomparable David Leonard infused with a bit of Del Boy.  


What follows is a Midsummer Night’s Dream gone nuts. The potion is administered via a cup of tea from a giant teapot and, following hallucinatory experiences (Oh, marvellous illusion) and the village falls into a drug-infused sleep.


Act II begins at midnight, as tradition decrees, and the villagers wake up and instantly fall in love with the person next to them. Of the opposite sex, obviously. If the village people had an inkling of what was to come, they might have positioned themselves into a more advantageous position. As it is, all of the matches made are both highly unsuitable and comical. The best of these by far was Constance (Emma Burke’s) duet with the ancient, ear-trumpeting notary Adrian Cook (bass – with a clear lower register). During the brilliantly performed Dear friends, take pity on my lot it was implied that his heart so full of joy was likely to be one ending in heart failure. There was a delightful vocal quintet I rejoice that it’s decided with Alexandra Mather, Amanda Shackleton, Hamish Brown, Christopher Charlton-Mathews and Ian Thompson-Smith. The balance was spot-on.


But there is no way of getting away from it, the star was Anthony Gardner’s John Wellington Wells. He caught both the eye (big time) and the ear throughout; his performance was outstanding. Though why the villagers voted to do away with him and not the son of Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, Alex. is beyond me. No offence meant Mr Brown, you were very good indeed.


Not all of the production was flawless; at times the orchestra and singers weren’t completely in sync and not all of the singing were pitch perfect. But this was the first night for goodness.


But let’s finish with a collective role call for the superb John and Maggie Soper, Pauline Marshall, Clare Bewers (Stage Manager) and Eric Lund (Lighting) and all the hard-working creative team involved. Take a bow. The Sorcerer orchestra, excellent throughout. Take a bow. And lastly, but not least, as they say, Musical Director Alastair Jamieson who conducted the whole comic opera with clarity, authority and musical insight. He must have been delighted. Take a bow. Hang on, you already have done.

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1 Comment

Jul 05

I went with my granddaughter on opening night to see the first performance. It was excellent. Very well performed. My granddaughter loved it. I can strongly recommend this show to everyone. Well done to the organisers and performers for their dedication to produce an excellent outcome of the original production.

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