The villagers of Ploverleigh are celebrating the marriage of Alexis, son of Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, to Aline, daughter of Lady Sangazure, who just happens to be Sir Marmaduke's old flame. Alexis is determined that all shall share the purity of his true love. He has arranged for Mr. Wells, "a dealer in magic and spells," to administer his best-selling love potion to everyone in the village, including the vicar Dr. Daly. The result is hilarious confusion.
One of Gilbert & Sullivan's first collaborations, The Sorcerer is also among their least known. In this tale of a magic potion that causes a whole village to fall in love with the wrong people, the pair's trademarks are already in evidence: an absurd plot that's resolved in an instant; deadpan operatic parodies; radiant tunes joined to sometimes cynical words. The work's popularity may have been hampered by flaws like its ending, which implausibly hurls the title character into damnation. But as a whole it's a buoyant experience, especially in this production, the only version easily available on video.
In a series of uneven quality (the Opera World series of G&S videos, made in the 1980s) this production is a standout. Almost without exception, the performers embody Gilbert's comic style. The title character, John Wellington Wells, is played by Clive Revill with proper Dickensian gravity, leavened by an anarchic twinkle. D'Oyly Carte veteran Donald Adams wields marvelous timing and diction as Sir Marmaduke, whose excessively good manners are no equal to Wells's potion. A weak point is Alexander Oliver, not very juvenile as the juvenile, Alexis; Oliver is a dull presence in a sparkling cast.
The production succumbs to a few television gimmicks, like having the actors speak directly into the camera. And the supernatural effects may look primitive by 21st-century standards, but that adds to the charm. From the opening number, filled with earnestly prancing villagers, you know you're in a world that follows its own giddy rules. --David Olivenbaum
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