November 15, 2011

The Sorcerer's Song

        One of the most popular Victorian poets, though not always considered in that light, is W.S. Gilbert, the librettist half of Gilbert and Sullivan.  I'm a huge fan of some Gilbert and Sullivan operas, though not such a fanatic as to love them all.  While in college I had a blast as a cellist in the pit orchestra of the Yale Gilbert & Sullivan Society, where my favorite productions were definitely The Pirates of Penzance and RuddigoreRuddigore could probably fall into the category of fantasy, or at least Gothic horror, what with its Bad Baronet and his haunted portrait gallery.  But another Gilbert and Sullivan production that contains elements of fantasy is The SorcererThe Sorcerer, which opened in 1877, is not one of the more popular of the duo's operas.  Indeed, I've never even seen it - my library system doesn't have any sort of recording of it available.  But I have seen the lyrics of its patter song reprinted as a poem about magic.  It's not the greatest poem, painfully forced in places.  The patter songs from Pirates ("The Very Model of a Modern Major General") and Ruddigore ("My Eyes Are Fully Open") are definitely cleverer as well as being better poetry.  Still, they aren't fantasy, so I'm happy to share with you here a fantasy poem of a very different tone than those I usually cite.  

      The Sorcerer's Song
Oh, my name is John Wellington Wells.
I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
In blessings and curses,
And ever-filled purses,
In prophecies, witches, and knells.
If you want a proud foe to "make tracks,"
If you'd melt a rich uncle in wax,
You've but to look in on our resident Djinn
Number seventy, Simmery Axe.
We've a first-class assortment of magic
And for raising a posthumous shade,
With effects that are comic or tragic,
There's no cheaper house in the trade.
Love-philtre, we've quantities of it,
And for knowledge if any one burns
We keep an extremely small prophet, a prophet
Who brings us unbounded returns.
For he can prophesy with a wink of his eye,
Peep with security into futurity,
Sum up your history, clear up a mystery,
Humor proclivity for a nativity.
He has answers oracular, bogies spectacular,
Tetrapods tragical, mirrors so magical,
Facts astronomical, solemn or comical,
And, if you want it, he
Makes a reduction on taking a quantity.
Oh, if any one anything lacks
He'll find it all ready in stacks
If he'll only look in on the resident Djinn
Number seventy, Simmery Axe
He can raise you hosts of ghosts,
And that without reflectors,
And creepy things with wings,
And gaunt and grisly spectres.
He can fill you crowds of shrouds,
And horrify you vastly.
He can rack your brains with chains,
And gibberings grim and ghastly.
Then, if you plan it, he changes organity
With an urbanity full of Satanity,
Vexing humanity with an inanity
Fatal to vanity,
Driving your foes to the verge of insanity.
But in tautology on demonology,
'Lectro biology, mystic nosology,
Spirit philology, high class astrology,
Such is his knowledge, he
Isn't the man to require an apology.
Oh, my name is John Wellington Wells.
I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
In blessings and curses,
And ever-filled purses,
In prophecies, witches, and knells.
If any one anything lacks
He'll find it all ready in stacks
If he'll only look in on the resident Djinn
Number seventy, Simmery Axe.

        Now, are you ready to experience how this piece was intended?  Not as a poem sitting somberly on the page, but as a patter song, a showpiece of virtuosic silliness.  There are various versions on-line, but I've chosen to link you to this one to start off because it's got the lyrics as subtitles.  Thom King in the title role of High Desert Opera's The Sorcerer.  Enjoy!

[Pictures: poster for the 1884 revival of The Sorcerer, artist unknown;
detail from a poster for three G&S operas, H.A. Thomas Lithograph Studio, 1879.
(from Wikimedia Commons.)]

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