Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer: A Rough Guide for the M.D.

August 1, 2014

A Word About the Piece:

Again, there isn’t any need for me to go into ridiculous detail here: There is no shortage of excellent analysis of every Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The response to The Sorcerer is mixed at best; there are people (like myself) who find many charms in it, and others who put it right at the bottom of the list of G&S shows.

Before You Start:

I had a little trouble choosing an edition. There is no Schirmer edition of the score to match their other standard editions of the G&S canon. The Savoy Company where I Music Direct had used the old Cramer edition, and because it’s in the public domain, they have their own copies made and bound with old posters of previous Savoy productions. Metzler, Kalmus, Old Chappel, Warner, I’m pretty sure they’re all that same old edition.  This edition of the score is also a reprint of that same old one, with Trial By Jury bundled in. You can do better than the Trial edition here, but this reprinted edition is cheap, so it might work for your group. In my score, the table of contents somehow got moved into the middle of the opening number, but what do you expect at such a low price? There are a few places where people have made newer versions, and some of them you can print out, so that’s also an option; Here and Here. Someone brought in what looked like a brand new 2003 edition from Cramer, but the cover looked exactly like one of the older ones, and I was unable to find it online, at least not in any way that I could look inside to make sure which one I was seeing. Note as you google around that there are two older editions, and one of those older editions, the one I used, in fact says on the title page, “New Edition”, because it includes changes made by Sullivan after the original production, so it isn’t enough to google ‘New Edition The Sorcerer”. I figured if I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t expect my chorus to get hold of it. It’s really important that everyone be reading from the same score in rehearsal. We just used the old one, warts and all.

If you make the choice to use the old edition, you’ll have to fix some of the mistakes. You can use this guide. I have to say, though, that there MUST be many more errors than this, especially with regard to the consistency of repeated passages. This old edition of the score seems to have been rushed to market and because this isn’t one of their more popular shows, there aren’t a whole host of people anxious to go over it note by note to fix the things that are there. Additionally, I think The Grand Duke and The Sorcerer are the only two manuscript scores in private hands, which might make them more difficult to study and compare. The old fashioned quarter rests look like eighth rests headed the other direction, the Bass clefs are amusingly in the old English manner, and at the beginning of each piece, by the keyboard reduction, sometimes it’s marked piano, to indicate the instrument, and other times, it indicates the tempo. Dynamics are sometimes right in the middle of the staff, where only notes should be.  There just isn’t much consistency, except that it’s consistently sloppy.

As far as recordings go, you will have many fewer to choose from than you do with the more popular members of the canon. I bought the 1953 Isidore Godfrey recording, which was bundled with a fun batch of G&S sung by Martyn Green and Danny Kaye. (not at the same time) Kaye’s John Wellington Wells is pretty neat. The Sorcerer recording on that disk isn’t quite complete, but it’s not a bad performance. I also picked up the 1933 Godfrey Sorcerer bundled with the important 1926 Mikado. As I say, that Sorcerer is heavily cut, but it’s the earliest one, so it has that level of interest. The 1966 recording is in stereo and fairly complete, but at the time I was researching, it was like, $50, which is too steep for me. It’s cheaper now! The only other recording is the Ohio Light Opera version, which I have not heard.

This is an excellent Sorcerer Discography, for you completists:

If you’re going to be Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: Good stuff, especially seeing the shows in the context of the whole output.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.”

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

3) Have a look around on this page; you may need to refer to it later.


As You’re Casting:

Marmaduke Poindextre

A classic G&S upper class baritone role, very concerned with Victorian social norms, but also a repressed romantic. At the end, he is the one who starts the call for Wells to die, so it’s great if he has one of those big commanding voices.


A rather problematic tenor role. He’s an awful person. He needs to be comically awful, or the show doesn’t work. There is also some rather gorgeous and occasionally difficult music he needs to sing, and sing well, otherwise you have a reprehensible male lead you also don’t want to listen to, and the fact that he doesn’t die at the end will be a real blow to your audience. 🙂

Dr. Daly

Tenor, older. Be careful of the chemistry between Constance and Dr. Daly. She loves him, he’s too old for her. Not enough age difference and the joke doesn’t work. Too much age difference, and the thing gets creepy. Bear that in mind. Also bear in mind the preferability of an actor who can play the flageolet, or some kind of pennywhistle. The sadder Dr. Daly is, the funnier he gets in the second act.


Requires a stentorian voice for the “All is prepared scene”, and a voice that can drop down to the low E flat.

John Wellington Wells

The first great patter baritone in G&S with one of the greatest patter numbers in the canon. Does not necessarily have to be the greatest singer in the world, but should obviously match pitch well and be able to negotiate the patter. Lots of comedy in the scene work, needs a natural sense of rhythm.

Lady Sangazure

The other older woman in the show, a very funny part for a contralto, particularly if she can be made up to be exceedingly unattractive to John Wellington Wells.


A lovely role for a flexible young soubrette. Her devotion to the awful Alexis must read as naivete, or the role gets over-complicated and the humor goes away.

Mrs. Partlett

A small role, matronly, Mezzo/Alto range.


A young soprano with some lovely and lyric music. See my earlier advice about Dr. Daly when casting.


There are places like HERE where singers can hear their parts played. You will want enough singers to divide your ladies three ways, and your men 4. With each G&S show, I like to pick out the fastest chorus passage and make it part of my warm-up. In this operetta, it’s the passage in No. 22: “Oh, what is the matter and what is the clatter? He’s glowering at her and threatens a blow…”

General Pronunciation Advice:

I copy here my earlier note from The Gondoliers guide, with some slight emendations.

I am still no expert on RP English pronunciation, but I offer here a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Words like “Bath” and “Chance” need to be pronounced with a tall Ah vowel.

2) Rs that begin a word are tripped or rolled. Rs that come before a vowel are tripped. Rs that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the r pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it.

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry (two of which appear in close proximity in this show) employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter:http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”, and certainly not wooder, my Philadelphia friends.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started.

Going through the show number by number:


This Overture wasn’t in the very first performances of The Sorcerer. Sullivan’s ballet music heard on opening night was replaced with the current overture for the 1884 revival. The practice of constructing Overtures out of themes from the operetta itself is one we’re very familiar with. Even to this day, if a musical still has an overture, it will include music you’ll subsequently hear in the show. But if you recall the Overtures of Mozart or Beethoven or Rossini, you’ll remember that the Overture was once a freestanding piece of music with the general tone of the work to follow, but without any themes that would come later in the opera itself. There are exceptions (part of the overture of Don Giovanni foreshadows Giovanni’s demise), but pre-romantic opera overtures usually can stand apart thematically as their own works. In the early 19th century, we began to see a shift toward pulling themes from the opera proper back into the overture. In the German tradition, I think it follows the general move toward making the whole opera ‘of-a-piece’, and using themes to signify ideas, which will culminate in Wagner’s use of leitmotiv. French opera arrives at this later, (I think the prelude to Gounod’s Faust has a theme which Gounod pulled the other direction, into the opera) Sullivan gets his method of creating a ‘highlights overture’ from a French source, Offenbach. Offenbach wasn’t keen on writing overtures, and many of the Overtures we hear as Offenbach’s are cleverly culled from the melodies of the opera by Fritz Hoffmann. The Sorcerer was written for the Opera Comique in London, G&S’s previous collaboration was on a double bill with Offenbach’s La Perichole, and The Sorcerer follows French Comique form in this, at least: The overture was constructed after the fact by an assistant; Hamilton Clarke.

As with many G&S overtures, The Sorcerer has some beautiful oboe work. I took a little rit. 4 before the key change into A major. The dynamics drop to piano at the 9th measure of the 2/4 section, and there’s also a dynamic drop 9 from the end with a subsequent crescendo. Work for clear articulation and good ensemble to start the show off with verve.

1. Chorus “Ring Forth, Ye Bells”

There is a passage in the parts that wasn’t in my score: 4 measures of D major descending scales in the chimes. I think any audience with a passing familiarity with G&S will be struck with the similarity of the opening phrase to “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General”, and the tempo is roughly the same. Introduced in this opening chorus is a rising three note motive we will see throughout the opera, first heard on the words “..forth ye bells…” Of course you could hardly write music in this style without using rising and falling three note patterns, but Sullivan uses them so extensively that they wind up acting as a kind of unifying motivic figure, and we see these same figures recurring again and again in later operas as well. Another triangle shaped set of notes will come in prominently later. My score has ‘for that pride of his sex is…’ at the bottom of page 8, but I believe it’s meant to be ‘AND that pride’. There are no American Rs in ‘forth’, ‘forget’, ‘your’, ‘for’, ‘mournful’ or ‘pour’, etc. Gilbert’s rumination on words with prominently placed ‘r’ vowels may scuttle your proper pronunciation from the outset. My score was also missing the alto harmony at the top of page 9, where the altos can sing a D on ‘forth’, a C# on ‘bells’, a B on ‘cla-‘, and A#s on ‘rion sound’. Watch the placement and articulation of the closing D consonants on ‘bound’, ‘sound’, etc.

2. Recit “Constance, my daughter…”

Unfortunately, the first 9 pages or so of exposition are very slow going indeed. They aren’t very inspired, and I suspect the people who dislike The Sorcerer are forming their opinions based on these opening numbers. I tried to move this recitative forward quickly, and advised my pit strings not to dig in beautifully in their harmonies, but to just lightly assert the musical punctuation. There are some very creative harmonic progressions and modulations in this show, and the one after “Speak, my daughter, speak” is the first of them. On the piano, it sounds like quasi-Wagnerian gobbledy-gook, but in the orchestra, it’s actually lovely! Be sure your Constance is singing an open vowel in ‘ask’ and ‘chance’. No american vowels there, please.

2a. Aria “When He Is Here”

We open with another bizarre chromatic passage, which seems perhaps to indicate that Constance is a strange bird. It again sounds much better in woodwinds than on the piano. This is the first of many pieces in 3. I haven’t done the math, but I’ll bet this has more triple meter than any of the other shows. Our previously mentioned three note motif here rises and falls. “When he is” and the next 3 phrases head down. “hopeless fear” and “love alone” head up. In general move the tempo forward, but be prepared to relax it at “woe can find”, at which point you’ll slow all the way to the instrumental interlude. Do the same in the parallel phrase later in the song. On many of these kinds of numbers, I do like to pick up the tempo on the way out of the number, just to give some energy.

3. Recit “The Air is Charged with Amatory Numbers”

If your score doesn’t have dialogue in it, be sure to write it in. The orchestral introduction here is much better than it looks on the page, and depicts Daly’s opening line well. Again, I found the energy of the opening 10 minutes of the show difficult to keep up, I think this recit needs to move, even as it looks wistfully back.

3a. Ballad “Time Was; When Love and I Were Well Acquainted…”

On the faster side of Andante. It isn’t a really difficult number, but the characterization is very important.

4. Recit and Minuet “Sir Marmaduke…”

Again, there is dialogue between 3a and 4. I won’t mention it any further. Keep the recit moving ahead here; this time it won’t be hard to do. I think this minuet is HILARIOUS, and you can have fun ornamenting it; I asked my players to approach the trills from the upper note, just to give it that archaic feel. I found the repeats unnecessary to line up under that pricelessly funny monologue. Again we’re in 3. (just following that thread here) It’s at this point the show picks up and starts to be wonderful. I don’t begrudge the opening numbers musically; they have their charms, but each of those recits and arias feel like they belong between some much more energetic material, and they belong LATER in the opera, when it’s time to bring the energy back down. What’s surprising isn’t that G&S were slow to get this pacing figured out, but that 6 months later they knocked it out of the park with Pinafore.

5. Chorus of Girls “With Heart And With Voice”

This is the first half of a quodlibet which the men will join in singing later. Again we have the rising 3 note motive throughout, and some deft Offenbachian touches in the ‘chopsticks’ passage in the second half. Note the difference between the dotted quarter/eighth rhythms and the straight quarters on “our A-line”  When the melody is combined with the men’s version later, there are some changes; keep that in mind as you rehearse it. That principal phrase covers a lot of ground in its ascent, be sure to keep open the mouth space so that the top doesn’t strangle.

6. Recit “My kindly friends, I thank you”

Simple and straightforward Recit.

6a. Aria “Happy Young Heart”

Another lovely waltz, this time in one. Here we see the first extensive use of the other core motive in the show, the melodic triangle shape. (for lack of a better term) “Hap-py young”, “Comes thy young”, “Joy in his”, “Pride in his”… basically every other measure for quite some time is either a note followed by a step lower, then back to the first, or a step higher then back, like an inverted triangle, or an upright one. There is a slight ritardando at “a-sueing” and at the end of each verse leading into the fermata. If you listen to the D’oyly Carte recordings, you will see a variant on the syllabification of the final trill. “Ne- (on the trill) ver” (on the eighth) “to” (on the second eighth) and “part” as written. Solidly in the french operetta tradition, but also very particularly Sullivanesque in it’s execution. Poor Wandering One is waiting in the wings. I do like to take the last 7 measures faster.

7. Recit “My child, I join in these congratulations”

There is a discrepancy between the version in my vocal score and the D’Oyly Carte recording: my score says “I join these kind congratulations”; the recording says “I join in these congratulations”. Originally an aria followed, which has now been lost, although people have tried to reconstruct it from the few surviving instrumental parts. That cut makes this recit feel a little abrupt.

8. Chorus of Men “With Heart and With Voice”

This is the other end of the quodlibet. Hopefully you’ll have enough men to make that 4 part division work out. There is some discrepancy in the 20th full measure between the various versions about whether the score should read “And” for three notes and “With” for two, or whether the “and” should have 4 pitches and the “with” only one. Pick one option and stick with it.

8a. Recitative

This recit is not in the vocal score I had. It comes right before #9, Alexis singing “Oh, my adored one!” and Aline “Beloved boy!”, Alexis then singing “Ecstatic rapture!” and Aline “Unmingled joy!” We only discovered it in the full score, and I’m not sure where that full score version comes from. It sets up a thread that started in Marmaduke’s dialogue between Nos. 4 and 5, and pays off in the second act finale. It’s very short and very important, but  the older editions don’t have it at all. Larry Blyer’s newer edition has an unnacompanied reconstruction that doesn’t match what my full score had, but Jim Cooper’s newer edition has a version very like what was in my full score, but missing a measure of introduction. As I’m looking more closely, it seems like all the versions available here are pulled from the second act finale. Do as you will here, but I think it’s a good idea to try to insert this little bit here.

9. Duet “Welcome, Joy, Adieu to Sadness”

A very funny gavotte in the classic Sullivan manner, rather like “I am a courtier” from The Gondoliers. I like to take upbeat passages built from groups of eighth notes (like the very first 4 notes here) with just a little hesitation, to add a little fussiness to the proceedings. Finding this tempo can be tricky. The Gavotte (4/4) section should be very moderate, but keep in mind the tempo of the 2/4, which is l’istesso from the other tempo. The patter needs to line up when the two parts go together. The other linchpin of the tempo is the “Sangazure immortal” part, which should feel expansive and not rushed. Between those three tempi lies a good speed. Also note that the patter section Sir Marmaduke sings is NOT the same both times he sings it. If you pick up the tempo for the last 8 measures, do so only slightly.

10. Ensemble “All is Prepared”

This section recalls the signing of the marriage contract in The Barber of Seville Act 2. But of course that happened at the end of the opera, and we’re just getting underway. Again we have that falling and rising 3 note motive throughout. There are a lot of ‘r’s in the chorus, watch those ‘for’s, ‘prepared’s, ‘lovers’, and ‘their’s. Make sure the As in ‘drafted’ and ‘hand’ are tall, not flat. The ‘d’ consonants at the end of each of these phrases needs to be crisp and clear. We need a little glottal stroke at the beginning of the word ‘it’ after ‘quiver’, just to separate that clause a little. I took an eight rest off the end of the chorus line at “then to seal proceed”, just so I could clearly get that ‘d’ together. The altos and sopranos will need to keep that volume loud at “leave them here…”, the range of that phrase puts them at a disadvantage, but the men are in their strongest register. Balance that as you can.

11. Ballad “For Love Alone”

This aria was apparently written at the last moment, and many claim this is sub-standard stuff. I rather like it, though. Like Aline’s first big number, this one is also full of melodic triangle shapes and inverted triangle shapes, and there are also plentiful instances of three notes rising or falling by step. Once again we’re in 3, and I think that opening phrase should really be milked for all the schmaltz you can wring out of it, two and a half measures of BIG sound, and then the echoing phrase tapering off with great ‘meaning’. Keep that verse moving forward, your tenor should save the over-emoting for the “I love that love…” chorus. Please understand the joke: Alexis doesn’t understand love at all, this is a completely content-less love song, where instead of saying intelligent things about love, we’re singing the WORD ‘love’ more than 3 dozen times.

12. Song “My Name is John Wellington Wells”

It’s a fast patter song, so it does need to move, but don’t start off at a crazy clip; give yourself somewhere to go with the tempo. Be sure your Wells has gone through one of the great G&S books so that he knows what he means when he’s singing; there are a lot of dated references, but they’re still funny, and if Wells knows what they mean, there are still laughs to be gotten from a modern audience from these lyrics. It’s a goof on arias like Udite, Udite, O Rustici from Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. I once saw a production of Elixir in English and was shocked at how much it sounded like G&S to me. Allow me a digression here: in today’s culture, full of irony and self-reference, it is often enough to just put before the audience something they recognize in a slightly different context to get a laugh. So when Family Guy reproduces entire sequences from old TV shows or movies shot for shot with absurd details changed, that counts as comedy for us. But Gilbert and Sullivan do something much more sophisticated; they comment with their spoofs. It isn’t just the laughter of recognition and absurdity, it’s also the laughter that something is being said by the comedy. Contemporary writers were annoyed by Gilbert’s treatment of the clergy. That’s because they could tell what he was trying to say, and they didn’t like it. In Elixir, we had a story about a love potion that narrowly enables a young man to marry above his station. Gilbert’s spoof asks a question: What would happen if this logic were applied across the board, and marriage wildly divorced from social standing were not only allowed, but made mandatory? Then he goes on to explore those potentialities. We’ve lost the cultural knowledge of the source of the spoof, and people generally don’t care whether people marry into their social station or out of it, so some of this spoofery is lost in its specificity. But good comedy is based on the human condition, and this is good comedy.

John Wellington Wells is at once a perfect example of the Buffa Bass/Baritone with the speedy wordplay repetitive phrasing and also a definitive break from the type. A perfect example, because like Dulcamara, Don Pasquale, Don Bartolo, Don Magnifico, and countless others, Wells is a blowhard who talks too much and sings very fast. Unlike his Italian counterparts, Wells and the patter baritones who follow him in the canon are masters of wordplay who are making the most convoluted and brilliantly obscure arguments in the shows. Compare Dulcamara’s passage:

Ei move i paralitici, 
spedisce gli apopletici, 
gli asmatici, gli asfitici, 
gl’isterici, i diabetici, 
guarisce timpanitidi, 
e scrofole e rachitidi 
e fino il mal di fegato 
che in moda diventò 

with the similar passage from Wells: 

Then if you plan it, he 
changes organity 
with an urbanity 
Full of satanity, 
Vexes humanity 
With an inanity 
Fatal to vanity 
Driving your foes to the verge of insanity 

Verbally there is no comparison. Italian is a language full of rhymes, English has fewer. This is why people have so much trouble translating Dante’s Inferno into English. You just can’t find enough rhymes to do it correctly. Felice Romani, who wrote the libretto to the Donizetti opera has fixated on Italian endings ‘itici’,  and ‘itidi’ which get him pretty far in listing ailments. But that’s all he does. Translated, the Italian passage reads: 

It moves the paralytics It works for apoplectics Asthmatics, asphytics, hysterics, diabetics, cures earaches, scrofula, and rickets, and even the liver disease, which is all the rage. 

That’s funny, but it’s just a list of diseases that sound comical when you run them in a row. In Gilbert’s patter, he’s locked onto on English sound ‘-anity’ and starts with a trick rhyme, precisely placing further rhymes within a very complicated sentence structure that might also be rendered thusly: 

If you select the option, he [Wells] will change the form of the organism you select in a diabolically refined and sophisticated manner that will cause great agitation to the human race, with a pointless stupidity that dashes excessive pride and will drive your enemies nearly mad.  

That, my friends, is the contribution of Gilbert to the history of Music Theatre.

To get back to the nitty-gritty of the number, though: Again, we have many rising and falling three note units throughout, plenty of triangle shaped motives, almost all of them in the up-side-down form. Occasionally those patterns move unexpectedly, so do take the time to learn it slowly. I found it useful to slow the tempo down at “He can raise you hosts of ghosts…”, and then to pick it up faster than before at “then if you plan it, he…” all the way to the end. I also took that last 5 measures lickety-split!

13. Incantation “Sprites of Earth and Air”

The original audience of The Sorcerer would have certainly known that this is a spoof of the Wolf’s Glen Scene from Der Freischutz. Now only the more cultured members of your audience will make that connection. Have a listen to that scene just so you can feel the intended mood; Wells’s dramatic counting, the spooky chorus, the tremolandi and the wild dynamic shifts are all there. This very German Singspiel moment shows how broad Sullivan’s cultural well is. His language includes the breadth of European opera styles, not just the Verdi spoofs we come to know him for in the mid-career masterworks. I wasn’t able to pinpoint it exactly, but I could swear there was some Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique hiding in the wings here too.

As you teach the Finale, work from the earliest rehearsal on the dynamics, and a very spooky choral tone. You’ll have to make some choices at the choral entrances. They are marked Chorus, but seem to be, clefwise, not the whole chorus, but only men first, then women on the second entrance. You’ll have to make your own choice about how to read that, but I wound up giving each part to the whole chorus. Later, at the “too late”s, the tenor E double flat is the only difference between the two phrases. Be sure to make that clear.

Wells’s “Shrivelled hags’ recit would certainly have painted him as a bad guy in the original production, and would have made his death at the end of the show a necessity for the original audience. Today, he comes off much more sympathetically, and Alexis offends our modern sensibility with his misogynistic arrogance. The whole Incantation is comic to be sure, but it’s also meant to be a little scary, as the earlier pictures of the show make clear:

Incantation sceneSet up the chorus to time their “It is done!” and so forth from the woodwind flourish after the fermata, and emphasize the descending chromatic passage after “number three” to ground the following “Set us free! etc.” Make sure the cutoff is together at the end of the last “Ha!”  The “Let us fly…” section is terrific, and I rather wish it went on a little longer. Be careful about the tuning of the two first phrases “Let us fly…” and “Where the sigh…” They differ slightly, but they are very similar. Just as this lovely tune starts to get going, it dies down to a whimper, but that’s because it’s really only a setup for a really great tune:

14. Finale “Now to the Banquet we Press

There are a couple of things that drive me batty about this, but it’s a really great number, and your audience will love it. We have here the culmination of the little triangle musical motive that has been sneaking in throughout, as well as three notes up-three notes down. “Now to the” and “ban-quet we” are melodically little up and down triangle figures, where “Now for the” is the same shape inverted. Then the descending three note idea at “Now for the” before “Strawberry Jam” “Now for the muffin and toast” goes up three, and then down again, and so on. What drove me batty was the inconsistency of the dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythm versus the straight eighths. I don’t mind Sullivan mixing them up for variety, but the differences between this version and the one at the end of the show are not consistent. The Chorus in the first act finale sings “Now for the” in the second phrase with a dotted rhythm. In the second act, Aline, Lady S, Alexis, and Sir Marmaduke sing them as straight eighths. The next phrase has the same discrepancy. Then things are rhythmically the same for a while. But the next section “The eggs and the ham and the strawberry jam…” is dotted, straight, dotted, straight in the first act, and all dotted in the second. The same singers will sing it both ways. The orchestra, incidentally, doesn’t play the figure in question, so their part is the same no matter which variant is used. I advise you to choose one of these variants and stick with it. I don’t think it’s worth the company’s time for you to be policing in which act the tune is occurring and which variant is being used. The pitches are identical, and the extremely subtle difference in bounce in the second act will be imperceptible by your audience, even if they know the show well. Okay, enough about that. I coached a rolled ‘r’ on ‘rollicking’, and you’ll note that the first vowel in ‘Strawberry’ is slightly different in the English pronunciation than in the American. The beautiful soaring Soprano Es that float over the fun rhythmic figurations in the rest of the chorus are a great place to let the sound bloom a little. Again, the cutoffs in the antiphonal sections are important.

Marmaduke’s little Rectitative is standard fare, but it leads to something that would have been quite funny to its original audience in a way that doesn’t play today so much. This is a typical drinking song, which is an operatic staple, but here applied to the mildest drink of all: tea.  Again, rising and falling three note stepwise figures abound. A Brindisi can technically be written a few different ways, but it’s key that you be able to imagine people holding their drinks aloft in toast. Here the dotted rhythms are key to that rollicking feel, as are the little eighth rests sprinkled throughout. It may help you to think of it as a prototype of “I Am The Pirate King”. The spooky, “See, see they drink” trio is loaded with those motivic triangle figures, and they modulate in a funny way, so take some time to teach it properly. Daly’s verse should be very leggiero, and the high notes are better if you have them. When the tutti comes in following Daly’s solo, I inserted an eighth rest after ‘tea’ to match the earlier version.

The duet “Oh, love” is so beautiful and otherworldy, and I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t catch its charms until our rehearsals were well underway. My friend Marisa Robinson pointed out to me a melodic resemblance with the Spring Chorus from Act 1 Scene 6 of Samson and Delilah, which I do hear. Compare “Voici le printemps nous portant des fleurs” with “Source of all pleasure, true fountain of joy”. The similarity must be coincidental, though, because The Sorcerer premiered exactly 15 days before Samson and Delilah, 500 miles away. Interesting, no? I tend to think of Sullivan’s spoofs coming after the fact, but he was in fact, right in the middle of much of our standard repertory as it came to be! I know this is bordering on heresy, but there is something Mozartian about the beautiful poise of this simple duet. I couldn’t resist connecting without breath the “Oh, love” at the bottom of page 67 with the return of that main theme, with a slight crescendo. Now I can’t imagine it another way. If your singers are good, time stands still with this number, and for the first time in the evening, I begin to care what happens to these two silly people. Note that Sullivan is again in 3. You may want to take a slight pause for applause after the downbeat of the Allegretto, then placing one again to restart in the new tempo.

The following, “Oh, marvelous illusion…” again makes clear the need for a true men’s chorus you can divide 4 ways. The clarity of the diction and the uniformity of articulation is crucial to the poise of the section. Offenbach and Rossini played in this pool quite a bit, with the hushed opening building to a faster and louder tutti. If you are not familiar with Offenbach, take time to poke around the finales of his best Bouffes, like La Perichole or La Belle Helene. They’re a terrific good time, even if you can’t understand a word of it, and Offenbach invariably provides a tune that’s such a wicked ear-worm that you can see why he was the toast of Europe, and why his shadow falls so broadly over everybody else writing operetta in the late 19th century. Incidentally, if you don’t understand French, a good clue to finding the fun numbers in an Offenbach operetta is to look for number titles that include people imitating instruments or saying nonsense, like “Piff, paff, puff, trarapapumm” from Die Grossherzogin von Gerolstein or Cloc, Clock, Moc, Mock from Ba-ta-clan . That stuff is solid gold. Anyway, as you work this finale, be sure to keep this crescendo growing slowly, it’s the art of conducting this kind of act ending. The accent on “fearful inferences”  only really pops when it’s coming from a pianissimo, but when the tutti section begins, it takes effort to keep the level hushed and excited. In Trial by Jury, Sullivan had built a finale like this, and here his growing mastery is apparent. The soaring principals singing over a fast patter in the chorus is there, as before, and so is the harmonic left turn inside a repeated passage, this time into a very exotic tonicization of the flat III chord, and just as deftly back into B major, adding a whiff of ravishment to the proceedings. The dynamics build to that modulation and come back down to piano precipitously. The second ending comes bursting out loud and crisp with the classic stereophonic effect, then a strong tutti “What is this strange confusion”, a drop to piano and just as quickly a big crescendo. I had Aline and Constance do a little portamento on their penultimate note up to the B flat, just to milk that moment a little. And then again, I like to pick up the tempo on the way out, to compel the audience to applaud wildly.

15. Trio & Chorus “Tis Twelve I Think…”

I’m sorry to say that after that fantastic finale, you have to come back to the second act with one of the least inspired act openings in the G&S canon, made worse by the fact that the whole section is a rewrite, so this is their second crack at it. Playing the piano reduction, you find yourself hoping the orchestra will make it better, and they do…. but not enough. The trio that follows is quite lovely. I found the tempi of the sections as they relate to one another totally bewildering. The trio has a clear natural tempo, which you will discover when you get to the passage “I did not think it meet to see…” It can only really be one speed. There is then a marking at the beginning of the next section that says the new quarter is the old half. I found that the new section was painfully slow at that speed, and not an Andante at all. Then there’s another L’istesso marking to get you into the Allegro, which doesn’t work either. Call me crazy, but if this new speed is the same as the first tempo, it doesn’t feel fast enough. Worse, the speed of the intro feels wrong at “If You’ll Marry Me.” My solution was as follows: I found the good tempo for the opening and went with it. 6 measures before the Andante, I took the crescendo to be an implied Allargando (as the one D’Oyly Carte recording does) ignored the L’istesso tempo at the “Why, where be oi…” section, and chose a true Andante. Then at the Allegro in F, I sped up to a real Allegro, with a poco allargando into the cadence on the A6/4 chord.  The next tempo was easy to find from there. The closing dance passage I picked up slightly.

The number as a whole doesn’t really hang together, but there are some charming touches, like the resemblance of the bass figure under the word “fire” to the Bass figure in the “Confutatis” of the Mozart Requiem. I imagine the dialect would have been terribly amusing at the time, and although I haven’t seen it in a while, I recall that the number is an improvement over the number that formerly sat in this place. Note that Wells really should say “Than THEY expect in persons of MY station.” The closing chorus and dance has further instances of the melodic contours we’ve seen throughout.

16. Ensemble “Dear Friends, Take Pity On My Lot…”

When I got to know this section of the score, I marveled at the modulation between 15 and 16. 15 ends in A, and the opening minor third of No. 16 sounds either like the bottom of an F# minor chord (the vi chord) or the top of a D chord (the IV chord) in the old tonality. But then the A slips down to an A flat, and we come to realize we’re actually hearing the V7 chord that will take us to D flat major, quite a distant key from A. I was disappointed when later I found out he had just moved the key for one of the singers, and that the strange modulation into Alexis’s “Oh joy, Oh joy” that happens later is the other funky seam that takes us back where we were supposed to be. It’s nice that Constance gets a number in a fast 3 just as Aline had earlier, and it’s amusing that whereas Aline’s earlier melody bobbles up and down like a butterly, Constance’s melody struggles up one non-chord tone at a time and then back down as though she can’t get off the ground. It helps to relax the tempo ever so slightly at “affection ran” and pick it back up at the tied E flats. The Presto section should be nice and fast, but I think the Notary’s line should slow to a crawl. He shouldn’t have a lot of pep. There are discrepancies in the lyrics the chorus sings to echo the Notary, but none of my sources were able to clear them up. I wound up choosing ‘plain’ and ‘madly’ for the first verse, and ‘deaf’ and ‘dearly’ for the second. If you know me well enough, you should know that I pick up the ritornello at the end to encourage applause. Alexis and Aline have that funky modulating passage, but it goes well enough, followed close by Constance’s 2/4 melody, “Oh bitter joy”, which is harder than it looks and sits in a funny part of the voice. “Is blighted” is a rather blighted vocal line, to be honest, and Sullivan must have known it, because he doesn’t give it to the chorus sopranos at all. This whole passage needs to have the lightness and air to make the words really funny in their contrast. The fortissimo “True Happiness” should be so shocking that it makes the chorus seem a little deranged. Those lovely “Oh Joy, Oh, Joy”s at the end need to be clear, clean, and quiet until the final crescendo. At that last crescendo, I had Constance slip up to the high C after the fermata.

17. Ballad “It is not love…”

Alexis finds himself in 4 (or in 2 as I conducted it), but not for long. He’s soon in 3, where he belongs. Again he’s saying things about love that don’t make terribly much sense. There is comedy to be found in over-emoting during the parts in 2, and making the fast 3 parts float gracefully by comparison. The score we used has a completely different last 6 measures than the orchestral parts, fyi. Be aware of the variants.

18. Quintet “I rejoice that it’s decided”

If you were there on opening night, you might be forgiven, having listened to the show thus far for thinking this was a slightly better than average outing in your average operetta, and that these Gilbert and Sullivan fellows were good writers. But when this quintet was over, you would have known you were hearing something really different, and indeed, this proto-madrigal inaugurates a series of gorgeous little vocal ensembles that sit like little jewels in each operetta in the canon. The opening night reviewers knew they were hearing something special, and if you don’t bungle it, your listeners will too!

Again, the counterpoint is full of these little triangle figurations when everyone sings together. The accent on “Bless the thoughtful fates..” is a nice touch. The individual solos can be a little louder, but the choral passages are meant to be small scale, so keep them intimate as you are able, with the occasional well placed swell.

19. Recit and Duet “Oh, I have wrought much evil”

This number is so funny, it doesn’t need much help from me. Just stay out of the way of the jokes. The spacing in some of the recit. sections in my score is an abomination against music notation, and if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up teaching your singers something they’ll have to unlearn when the orchestra arrives. See for example the spacing of “Oh, Horrible…” Horrible does not line up with the second quarter. The mock tragic ending is really really funny, and there’s one further detail I noticed that you may not catch until the orchestra arrives: When Wells makes up the story about the Maiden fair by the sounding sea, there is a lovely little Barcarolle that sounds just like water lapping up on the side of a boat. When Wells turns to the audience and says, “A lie! No maiden waits me there!” a tremolando accompanies, but when Lady S pipes back in, she hasn’t heard him, and the Barcarolle picks up again. Again, he tells us he’s lying, and the orchestra follows him, and again Lady S is still hearing that boat by the sounding sea that doesn’t exist. Dynamics, diction, and timing are all key.

20. Recit and Air “Alexis, doubt me not, my loved one”

This is actually lovely, as is all of Aline’s music. Again, she winds up in a dreamy 3. The recit up top takes a little getting used to, but isn’t all that hard and the Aria gives great opportunity for excellent singing. I gave the strings a crescendo 5 measures from the end to warm up that last vocal cadence.

21. Song “Engaged to So and So”

This has a part written for a flageolet or some kind of pennywhistle in E. In a pinch, your flautist can play it. It seems like a natural piccolo part, but I’m afraid it goes out of range. Our bassonist actually played it in our production on a pennywhistle.

Once again we find ourselves in 3, in a prime situation for Gilbert to play to his strengths, specifically the sadness of the unloved. The more depressing the ending is, the more hilarious is the opening of the following ensemble, as another young lady inexplicably and inappropriately falls in love with Daly.

22. Ensemble “Oh, Joyous Boon”

The opening should be a mad flurry, as if this is the reuniting of a conventional couple. This marks the beginning of the finale sequence for the second act, so the weight and pacing of everything that follows here must be managed carefully. Note again the triangle shaped note formations, and 3 note rising and falling patterns. The recitativo accompagnato theat comes out of that passage is very funny, especially, “Oh, Alexis, don’t do that- you must not!” I don’t know how funny Gilbert intended it to be, but it made me laugh every time. And then the punctuated “Why?”, like a short, sharp, shock. I believe “bade” is pronounced “bad”. The passage “False one, be gone…” can be made terrifically dramatic, although the scoring is thinner than you’d want it to be to make it so. You’ll want to ask your string players to play each of those with a full, resonant sound. We went to town on that section, and even added a little ornamentation, a turn and a G flat between the first and second syllables of “Perfidy”, and an added second note: an added A flat with a fermata on “All men shall know”

I’m of the mind that a HW sound is needed for “What” in the choral passage that follows, with terrific plosive consonants on matter, clatter, at her, batter, flatter, latter…

Sullivan again, near the end of an act takes his customary harmonic left turn as the principals soar over a pattery chorus, but this effect never seems to cloy. This time a rising chromatic line in the altos takes us to a 2nd inversion V/IV chord, but then the IV chord turns out to be augmented! The harmony winds down over that sub-dominant pedal until a traditional cadence develops.

23. Recitative “Prepare for sad surprises!”

These 17 measures has been compared to Questa donna conoscete?, Alfredo’s denunciation of Violetta in La Traviata, but I think the comparison is more situational than musical. But I suppose for a Sullivan tenor role, this is pretty heated.

24. Finale

The opening 2 measures must be a Chopin Funeral March quote. The line about Arimanes was at one point set up earlier; he’s the Persian fountainhead of evil. He’s a deus-ex-machina one way or the other. It’s interesting how much of Wells’s dialogue and lyric is about his position in the trade. It’s hard to tell exactly who Gilbert is trying to skewer, as usual, but one can’t help but think that Alexis doesn’t die because he’s higher in the social order. Gilbert seems to be saying something about popular opinion too, which he certainly craved, but seems to have been ambivalent about in his plots. After Wells’s speech “…or where” is the place where he normally disappears, descending like Don Giovanni into the floor or disappearing in a puff of smoke. The libretto has Wells disappear later, and that could be funny, with him dancing happily among the chorus, suddenly disappearing in a flash completely at random when the number’s over.

“Oh, my adored one” was set up earlier, I asked for rolled r on “rapture”. In my score, the ladies lines were reversed. I believe it goes “Beloved boy”, then “Unmingled joy”, not the other way around. The final chorus has that rhythmic issue I mentioned earlier, but otherwise is basically the same as earlier. It may make sense to recycle your earlier choreography. If you’d like to go back for bows, you can go back to the pick up to the 29th measure of rehearsal E.

Your Pit Orchestra:

I often counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color. I think you need to make a decision about whether you’re using a piano. If you’re not, you need to either use the complete original orchestrations. Unfortunately they’re not at IMSLP as of this writing but you can get them in a couple of places: HERE, or HERE, for example.

Or you need to rent a Newby Reduction:


If you’re using a piano, then you’ve already decided you’re not going for the true orchestral palette of sounds. In that case, I would add to the piano, in this order:

Violin 1

Violin 2



Flute 1

Clarinet 1

Cornet 1 (or trumpet)







In truth, it’s far more complicated than that, because after you reach a certain point with the winds, you need to start doubling up the strings, and you need to balance those properly. I don’t have space to go into the acoustics of that. Suffice it to say that the Violins, the flute, clarinet, trumpet, and oboe provide much needed color, the cello and bass provide body to the sound, and everyone else gets you closer to the ideal; the orchestral sound. After all, this isn’t piano based music; you’re dealing with an operetta here.

Have fun with your production of The Sorcerer! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them!


One comment

  1. I love getting these opera emails. As a G&S singer, they are always helpful!

    Thank you!
    Oklahoma City, OK.

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