Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, The Sorcerer, debuted in 1877 with a bizarre cast of priests, lovers, and sorcerers. This Victorian-era opera about marriage and love potions was not exactly what one would expect from the occasionally club and drug-obsessed—dare I say depraved—city of Montreal. Suffice it to say, when the McGill Savoy Society announced that they would be putting on The Sorcerer, McGill students paused their rambunctious night lives for an evening of opera.
In The Sorcerer, the newly-betrothed Alexis (Samuel Valentim-Gervais, U3 Science) enlists the titular sorcerer John Wellington Wells (Aidan McGartland, PhD Music) to brew a love potion for the village so the villagers must share in his lovesickness. Wells agrees, and slips the potion into a pot of tea for a village gathering, wherein the rallying cry is not unlike that of McGill Arts students: To “eat, drink, and be gay!” But if The Sorcerer can teach McGill students one lesson, it’s this: Always bring your own drinks to parties.
After the potion takes effect, every villager falls in love with the first person they see. This gambit leads to some fairly unconventional and often hilarious pairings, the funniest being the romantic attraction shared between the young Constance (Alice Wu, U4 Arts) and, my favourite, the hard-of-hearing and certainly geriatric Notary (Melody Grant). In one of the show’s shining moments, the Notary uses an ornate ear trumpet in an attempt to hear Constance. Despite all its humour, the show ends on an eerie note: To reverse the bizarre effects of the love potion, Wells sacrifices his life.
Even so, the McGill Savoy Society’s production of The Sorcerer was a hilarious and magical night of song and dance. The cast’s costuming, designed by the show’s director, Natalie Demmon, consisted of intricate Victorian skirts and suits of various pastel hues, and especially mesmerizing cage crinolines and hoop skirts. Unlike the fashion scene in Montreal—pardoning the bright, blue eyeshadow—the costuming made me wonder if the heavy doors to Moyse Hall had opened up a portal to the late-19th-century village of Ploverleigh.
Natalie Demmon also designed the set: A Monet-like landscape with rolling hills and twisting lakes, then a picnic spot with intricate wooden tables and food platters, and later a potion-making lair complete with a sorcery hut that resembled the cover of an Albert Camus novel. Throughout the show, characters picked flowers from the set’s hedges to wear in their hair or give to their lover. The lighting, designed by Asa Kohn (first year master’s in math), was powerful enough to change the setting from a relaxing, rolling hillside where lovers profess their feelings for one another to the demonic potion-making chamber of a sorcerer within seconds.
Whether singing within or without the ensemble, each vocalist sounded beautiful. The ornate solos that Aline (Sophie Gaudreau, U3 Arts and Science) sang were particularly noteworthy—especially “Oh, Happy Young Heart.” I only wished the characters spent more time listening and responding to one another with their songs; their heavy focus on the audience limited genuine conversation between characters. But ultimately, the professional quality of the vocalists more than made up for it.
Despite the orchestra’s small size, their rendering of Arthur Sullivan’s markedly brassy score, evident from the show’s starting “Overture”, was euphonious. “Dear Friends, Take Pity On My Lot” stood out as it alternated between the fast and vivacious tempo of Constance and chorus and the slow waltz of the old Notary who is “67 nearly”—gasp! The orchestra was an incredibly talented and passionate group of musical artists whom I urge to play with even more confidence during their following musical pursuits—anyone would be lucky to listen.
Despite debuting nearly 150 years ago, The Sorcerer still tickles contemporary audiences. The McGill Savoy Society’s performance of a 19th-century opera about marriage plots and sorcery allowed students to escape the misery of midterms and the monotony of the club scene. Readers should absolutely attend future performances by this passionate group of technicians, musicians, and artists. Apt. 200 can wait another day.
The Sorcerer ran from Feb. 10-18 in Moyse Hall.