What is the Sorcerer?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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The Sorcerer is an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. Sir William Schwenck Gilbert wrote the libretto, and Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan composed the music. The Sorcerer was their third operetta together, following after Thespis and Trial by Jury. It premiered in London a the Opera Comique, Richard D’Oyly Carte’s theatre, on 17 November, 1877.

Parody was one of Gilbert’s favorite occupations, and The Sorcerer is a burlesque of Gaetano Donizetti’s melodramatic opera, L’Elisir d’amore, The Elixir of Love in English. In Donizetti’s opera, a peasant is in love with a wealthy lady and buys a love potion to win her, using up all his money. The potion is a fake, only wine, and drinking it makes him drunk, convincing the lady in question to plight her troth to someone else. Since the potion was guaranteed, the peasant goes back to the quack, who prescribes a second bottle. The peasant joins the army in order to raise the money, but his rich uncle dies, his commission is bought back by the wealthy lady who agrees to marry the peasant, the other suitor withdraws gracefully, and the quack proclaims the success of his potion.


The Sorcerer takes place in the village of Ploverleigh, where Alexis, a well-born lad, prepares to sign a marriage contract with Alexis, a young lady of his own station with the entire village in attendance to celebrate. In the course of preparations, we learn that Alexis’s father, Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre and Aline’s mother, Lady Sangazure, had once loved each other, and that another villager, Constance Partlet, is in love with the vicar, but the vicar, Mr. Daly, considers himself a confirmed bachelor.

Given the village gathering, Alexis determines to act on his conviction that marriage pairings should not depend on rank. He hires the Sorcerer, John Wellington Wells, to give a love potion to everyone present, served up in the teapot to the unwitting guests. All who are not married already will fall in love with the first person of the opposite sex whom they see upon waking. All drink and fall asleep.

Act II opens after the upper crust of the village have been taken home to prevent their running into any difficulties through the potion’s actions. Alexis wants to join Aline in drinking, to assure their romance, but she refuses. The rest of the villagers awake, and in Gilbert’s capable hands, chaos ensues. Constance pairs off with the Notary who came to witness the marriage contract, Sir Marmaduke with Mrs. Partlet, and the Lady Sagazure with the Sorcerer.

Aline gives in and drinks, and promptly falls in love with Mr. Daly, but Alexis is not so pleased. The Vicar, seeing the difficulty, offers to leave the area, but this would not be enough to set things to rights, since Aline no longer loves Alexis. Mr. Wells opines that the spell can be revoked only by the sacrifice of either himself or Alexis to the fiend Ahrimanes. The village votes, and the Sorcerer loses and is swallowed by the earth. The villager’s are freed and return to or join with their true loves, and another feast is held to celebrate.


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Post 1

There is no indication that "Sorcerer" is a direct burlesque of "l'Elisir". Rather, it is based on Gilbert's Bab Ballad "An Elixir of Love".

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