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The Plot


2.1 Straightforward Plot
2.2 The "Lozenge" Plot
2.2.1 What it was
2.2.2 Gilbert's Obsession
2.2.3 A Shavian Gilbert
2.3 Updates
2.3.1 The Asimov version
2.3.2 The least susceptible Opera

2.1 Straightforward Plot

AdjustR wrote: [Sorry, have not been able to find AdjustR's real name] I have not seen The Sorcerer, but just read the libretto, in preparation for seeing it in the Fall, locally. Found the story hard to follow. Hope it will be easier when I hear the music, and see the performance. Marc Shepherd replied: The plot of The Sorcerer, when stripped of embellishments, is fairly straightforward. A well-meaning but misguided hero hires a sorcerer to administer a love potion to an entire village. Unfortunately, everyone ends up with the "wrong" mate. For example, the hero's well-to-do father couples with the lower- class "pew opener", Mrs. Partlet.

2.2 The "Lozenge" Plot

2.2.1 What it was

Andrew Crowther wrote: The Sorcerer is one of the pieces in which Gilbert uses the notorious "Lozenge Plot" that Sullivan so objected to later. This boils down to the use of some magic lozenge/potion/talisman etc. to make people act in odd or contrary ways. This plot may be one of the reasons why it hasn't caught on like most of the other operas: once you've realized what the formula is - a parade of mismatched couples - it might seem a little monotonous. I think even Gilbert admitted that Sorcerer lacked "story".

And yet, when I saw a production about a year ago I was very impressed at how good it was - much better than I expected. The plotting seemed quite tight, though if I remember correctly things only really caught alight when JWW came on. I suppose the main problem with the "Lozenge Plot" is its predictability. The structure is really very simple.

Act 1: Original situation is laid before us, and at the end of the act everyone drinks the potion and it's topsy-turvy time. Act 2: The consequences are worked out, but in the end the spell is reversed and everything goes back to normal. The solution is usually quite obvious well in advance, and the only question is, when will Gilbert decide to say "Enough!" and cut the knot?

Philip Sternenberg replied: Do you realize that not a single word of how you've described Sorcerer needs to be changed to describe Mountebanks?

2.2.2 Gilbert's Obsession

Harriet Meyer asked: Andrew's post prompts a burning question: WHY was Gilbert so intent on his lozenge plot?

Bruce Miller replied to this: Because Sullivan kept rejecting it, on the grounds it was too artificial. The first rejection came at about the time Sorcerer was being revived, and the composer no doubt feared that another lozenge-type plot would inevitably be compared with it. But after a time, the issue became a larger struggle of wills, and Gilbert became obsessed with it, not giving up until it was finally written with another man's score. And Harriet replied: Thanks much, but that does not really answer my question. What about the lozenge plot was so important to Gilbert? Why did Gilbert care so much about such a plot? I realize the answer might be conjectural, but I see no objection to conjecture--in moderation.

Bruce Miller replied: The fact that Sullivan didn't want to set it. It stuck in his craw. The actual plot could have been anything, but this is the one Sullivan didn't like. Ronald Orenstein wrote: I think there is more to it than this. The lozenge or something like it is central to much of Gilbert's writing. He seems to have been obsessed with hypocrisy and with the Victorian insistence for taking the appearance of the thing for the thing itself, and his standard way of dealing with it is to have his characters turn into other people or in some way entirely change personalities, usually through some magical agency - thus, usually, revealing their true natures. The Palace of Truth is a good dramatic example; so, in a different way, is Happy Arcadia. Such a notion is death to any form of rounded character development, as characters must have two clearly opposed natures for the idea to work. This, of course, is the stuff of melodrama - and so the best use of the lozenge plot - so cleverly done, in fact, that even Sullivan did not recognize it - is in Ruddigore, where at one level the lozenge is the curse, but on another it is simply a society in which every character but one has a dual nature - and she, poor thing, is mad.

2.2.3 A Shavian Gilbert

Tom Shepard observed: I believe that Gilbert's plots were particularly infused with or informed by things perhaps not being what they seem, if only we can hold the magic mirror up to the hypocrisy of both individuals and institutions. I believe that there was something rather Shavian about Gilbert, with a secret longing to see the successful emergence, Gilbert often creates his morally worthiest characters from the middle and lower classes; he believes in the redemption of the fallen woman, and he wants everybody to suffer the consequences of their bigotry. What better way than with a lozenge or a philtre or a curse. But I am sure that you know all of this already. It's just that I am coming to realize how politically liberal WSG was, and that the Lozenge plot was the easiest way for him to express this.

2.3 Updates

2.3.1 The Asimov version

Gerry Howe wrote: May I recommend a delightful little story to Savoynetters? Isaac Asimov's The Up-to-date Sorcerer (reprinted in Nightfall Two) is a gentle and humorous pastiche of the original. Professor Wellington Johns, an endocrinologist, produces his "amatogenic cortical principle"... I won't spoil it by giving away the ending!

Clive Woods replied: Isaac Asimov's The Up-to-date Sorcerer is also reprinted in "The Complete Stories - Vol. 1" (page 563) and presumably also in one of the anthologies of which that is itself an anthology. I must have read it long ago, but I have no recollection of it.

2.3.2 The least susceptible Opera

David Craven wrote: To me, The Sorcerer is, perhaps, the G&S work which is the least susceptible to updating. As others have noted, as the 20th Century has progressed, the perception of class barriers is that they have dropped (even if, in many ways, this perception is false). Further, we have seen some of the most unusual public unions which make even the most uncommon couplings in Sorcerer seem normal (Mary Matlin and James Carville? Oliver and Lisa Douglas? Michael Jackson and Priscilla Presley-Jackson? Mike Tyson and Robin Givens? Claudia Schiffer and What's his name the Magician?)

Can it be updated? I have thought long and hard about this, and I have been unable to come up with any kind of updating, no matter how bizarre and off the wall, which would have any chance of being successful. The best that I can conjure up is creating a chorus with groups that are normally not together. This provides at least a possible "evil twin" (Fed Ex and UPS guys, Postal Workers and Dog Lovers, BATF Agents and Right Wing Nut Cases, KKKer's and NAACP activists) But for "good twins" I am flummoxed. As for the principals, it is tough to come up with a situation where Sir Marmaduke's match with Mrs. P. is inappropriate while Constance's match with Dr. Daly is not.... Generally, if a match with a millionaire industrialist (the match that appears to work for Sir M.) is not acceptable, than neither would a match between the daughter of the unacceptable match and a member of the clergy. (Perhaps it is our view of the clergy which has changed) As for Wells? I have no idea. He appears to be of the genus - Medicinus Showus, a long extinct species. The closet that we now have is that of genus - Infomercialist Conist, but Wells is too sincere. I just don't know...

To which Rica Mendes: Oh, come on Dave... you work in Corporate America, right? Mailroom folk and executives... Lowly Admin's and Corporate Officers... Systems/IT folk and Sales Reps... Cafeteria workers and Accounting folk... Filing Room and Traders... the possibilities are endless... The classes are so there, you just have to know where to look... and it can totally be costumed - even here at my office (we're business casual all week) you can still see who is what department based on what they wear, how ironed it is, what their hair looks like, how they walk etc. Heck, it's amazing what can happen at corporate BBQ's (and I just went to one!) - imagine what would happen if someone added a love potion to the keg!


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