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Utopia, Limited

Utopia Limited, or The Flowers of Progress, is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was the second-to-last of Gilbert and Sullivan's fourteen collaborations, premiering on 7 October 1893 for a run of 245 performances. Although it did not achieve the success of their earlier productions, the opera was profitable.

Gilbert's libretto satirises limited liability companies, and particularly the idea that a bankrupt company could leave creditors unpaid without any liability on the part of its owners. It also lampoons the "Stock Company Act" by imagining the absurd convergence of natural persons (or sovereign nations) with legal commercial entities under the limited companies laws. In addition, it mocks the conceits of the late 19th-century British empire and several of the nation's beloved institutions. In mocking the adoption by a "barbaric" country of the cultural values of an "advanced" nation, it takes a tilt at the cultural aspects of imperialism. The libretto was criticised as too long and rambling by the critics and later commentators, and several subplots introduced in Act I are never resolved.

Utopia is performed much less frequently than most other Gilbert and Sullivan operas. It can be expensive to produce, requiring a large principal cast and two costumes ("native" and "drawing room") for most of the performers. The subject-matter and characters, including the specific government offices, are obscure for modern audiences, although its themes of corporatisation of public institutions and scandal in the British Royal family are evergreen. And although it contains some fine music, it perhaps has less than Sullivan's usual quota of unforgettable tunes. Still, Utopia has its fans. George Bernard Shaw wrote in his highly favourable October 1893 review of the show in The World, "I enjoyed the score of Utopia more than that of any of the previous Savoy operas."

Background

During the production of Gilbert and Sullivan's previous opera, The Gondoliers, Gilbert became embroiled in a legal dispute with their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, over the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre – and, more generally, over the accounting for expenses over the course of their long partnership. Sullivan sided with Carte, and the partnership was forced to disband. After The Gondoliers closed, it would be more than two years before Utopia appeared. The lawsuit had left Gilbert and Sullivan somewhat embittered, and their last two works together suffered from a less collegial working relationship than the two men had typically enjoyed while writing earlier operas.

Genesis of the opera

In late 1892, after lengthy and delicate discussions over the financial arrangements for a new opera, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte were able to reach an agreement. On 27 January 1893, Gilbert read the plot outline for the libretto to Sullivan, and by July, he was finished with the libretto. Gilbert suffered from bad gout throughout the summer and autumn of 1893 and had to attend rehearsals in a wheelchair. Gilbert and Sullivan disagreed on several matters, including the character of Lady Sophy, and Sullivan found some of Gilbert's lyrics difficult to set. Their lack of the cohesion during the writing and editing of Utopia was in marked contrast with what Sullivan called the "oneness" of their previous collaborations since Trial by Jury in 1875. For Utopia, the creators engaged Hawes Craven to design the sets, which were much praised. Craven was the designer for Henry Irving's spectacular Shakespeare productions at the Lyceum Theatre. Percy Anderson designed the costumes.

In 1893, the year Utopia, Limited was produced, Princess Kaiulani of the independent monarchy of Hawaii attended a private school in England. She was the talk of the society pages, with much speculation as to the influence English "civilization" would have on the Princess and eventually her homeland. Two decades earlier, in 1870, Anna Leonowens wrote about her six-year stint as governess to the children of the king of Siam (Thailand). The first of these books was called The English Governess at the Siamese Court.... The famous stories of two ladies likely influenced the characters of Princess Zara and Lady Sophy, respectively. Another impetus for Gilbert in the genesis of the work was his disdain for England's Limited Liability Act of 1862, which he had begun to explore in the previous opera with Sullivan, The Gondoliers.

By using an imaginary setting, Gilbert was emboldened to level some sharp satire at British imperialism, the monarchy, party politics and other institutions that might have touched a more sensitive nerve if the opera had a British setting. In this work, Gilbert returns to the idea of an anti-Utopia, which he had explored, in various ways, in his early one-act operas, Happy Arcadia, The Happy Land, Our Island Home, Topsyturveydom, and some of his other early works. The previous Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Gondoliers, also concerns an imaginary island kingdom where the rules of court are considerably different from those in Britain. In Utopia, the island begins as a virtual paradise, is thrown into chaos by the importation of "English" influences, and is eventually saved by an English political expedience. The satiric themes of acting through limited liability entities that are not required to honor their obligations and scandal in the monarchy were effective in 1893 and still resonate today. In addition, the show satirises "practically everything English – English prudery, English conversation, English company promoting, the English party system, the English War Office and Admiralty, the County Council, and the English Cabinet." Apart from satirical elements, in Utopia, Gilbert indulges in some small guilty pleasures throughout the libretto. For instance, he was up-to-date in his technology references (as he had been in H.M.S. Pinafore with the mention of the telephone), by mentioning George Eastman's new product, the Kodak camera, and its slogan. Gilbert also throws some barbs at the Lord Chamberlain's office, as he loved to do. In addition, The Court of St. James's is mockingly confused with St James's Hall and its minstrel shows.

Reception and aftermath

The critics were glad to see Gilbert and Sullivan back together but deemed the libretto too long and rambling from the outset. The Daily News and the Globe both noted that Act I ran longer than any previous Savoy Opera and needed pruning. However, Gilbert and Sullivan's choices for what to cut are suspect. The soprano's aria, "Youth is a boon avowed" got some of the most enthusiastic reviews from the press but was cut after the opening night. The Globe called it "one of Sir Arthur Sullivan's best works". Also, the pre-production cuts left subplots that were introduced in Act I unresolved. For example, Sullivan refused to set one of Gilbert's scenes for Nancy McIntosh, which left the Scaphio-Phantis-Zara subplot unresolved. Rutland Barrington, in his memoirs, felt that the "second act... was not as full of fun as usual" in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Another weakness of the work is its references to the earlier Gilbert and Sullivan operas more often than most of the other libretti in the G&S series, for example in the re-use of the character Captain Corcoran. The Pall Mall Gazette wrote, "It is always a melancholy business when a writer is driven to imitate himself. Utopia (limited) is a mirthless travesty of the work with which [[Gilbert's] name is most generally associated.... Mr. Gilbert has failed to make the old seem new.... Finally, although the show turned a profit, its competition with the musical comedies' fashion pageantry, namely in the opulent drawing room scene, added thousands of pounds of expense, making Utopia the most expensive of all of the Savoy Operas. The taste of the London theatregoing public was shifting away from comic opera and towards musical comedies, such as In Town (1892), A Gaiety Girl (1893) and Morocco Bound (1893), which were to dominate the London stage for the next two decades and beyond. Utopia was able to compete effectively with this new genre, but it was the last Gilbert and Sullivan effort to do so.

Utopia introduced Gilbert's last protégée, Nancy McIntosh, as Princess Zara, and the role was much expanded to accommodate her. According to scholar John Wolfson, in his book, Final Curtain, this damaged and unbalanced the script by detracting from its parody of government. Commentators agree that McIntosh was not a good actress, and during the run of Utopia, her lack of confidence and health combined to affect her performance. Utopia, Limited was to be McIntosh's only part with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as Sullivan refused to write another piece if she was to take part in it. Discussions over her playing the role of Yum-Yum in a proposed revival of The Mikado led to another row between the two that prevented the revival, and Gilbert's insistence upon her appearing in His Excellency caused Sullivan to refuse to set the piece. Three more years would pass before Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated again, on their last work, The Grand Duke.

Utopia ran for 245 performances. It turned a profit and was considered a success by the standards of the late Victorian theatre. After the original production, four D'Oyly Carte touring companies played Utopia in the British provinces, and the piece was included in tours until 1900. There was also an 1894 New York production and performances in the South African tour of 1902-03. After this, however, Utopia was not revived by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until 4 April 1975, during the company's centenary season. Various amateur companies had performed the opera during the 20th century, and it enjoyed occasional professional productions by the American Savoyards in the 1950s and 1960s and the Light Opera of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players also gave a staged concert performance in celebration of its centenary. Although productions are still less frequent than those of the better-known Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and professional productions are rare, Utopia is regularly presented by some of the amateur Gilbert and Sullivan repertory companies and can be seen most summers at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England.

Roles

Utopians

  • King Paramount the First, King of Utopia (baritone)
  • Phantis, Scaphio, Judges of the Utopian Supreme Court (comic baritones)
  • Tarara, The Public Exploder (comic baritone)
  • Calynx, The Utopian Vice-Chamberlain (speaking)
  • The Princess Zara, eldest daughter of King Paramount (soprano)
  • The Princess Nekaya (soprano) and The Princess Kalyba (mezzo-soprano), her younger sisters
  • The Lady Sophy, their English Gouvernante (contralto)
  • Salata (speaking), Melene (speaking), and Phylla (soprano), Utopian Maidens

Imported Flowers of Progress

  • Lord Dramaleigh, a British Lord Chamberlain (high baritone)
  • Captain Fitzbattleaxe, First Life Guards (tenor)
  • Captain Sir Edward Corcoran, KCB, of the Royal Navy (bass)
  • Mr. Goldbury, a Company Promoter, afterwards Comptroller of the Utopian Household (baritone)
  • Sir Bailey Barre, Q.C., MP (tenor)
  • Mr. Blushington, of the County Council (baritone)

Synopsis

Act I

On the fictional South Pacific island of Utopia, the monarch, King Paramount, has sent his daughter, Princess Zara, to Girton College in England. He hopes that her training will contribute to his plan to civilise his people. The Public Exploder, Tarara, disturbs the languor of the Utopian maidens ("In lazy languor, motionless") to remind them of his duty to blow up the King if the two "Wise Men", Scaphio and Phantis, order him to do so. The Wise Men appear, heralded by the chorus ("O make way for the Wise Men") and note that their duty is to spy upon the King ("In every mental lore"). The senior wise man, Scaphio, is in love with the Princess Zara ("Let all your doubts take wing").

The King soon arrives ("A King of autocratic power we"). He presents his two younger daughters, Nekaya and Kalyba, as models of English-style deportment ("Although of native maids the cream"), and their English governess, Lady Sophy, explains how young ladies should behave when approached by amorous gentlemen ("Bold-faced ranger"). The king joins the two Wise Men, commenting that life is a farce ("First you're born"). The King is quite upset about the Wise Men's power over him: he is unable to marry the Lady Sophy because of self-mocking articles that Scaphio and Phantis have forced him to write under a pseudonym. Lady Sophy discovers the articles to her horror ("Subjected to your heavenly gaze").

Princess Zara now returns to Utopia with six British gentlemen (the "Flowers of Progress") in tow ("Oh, maiden rich in Girton lore"). She has become romantically involved with one of them, Captain Fitzbattleaxe ("Ah! gallant soldier"). Meanwhile, both Scaphio and Phantis have become smitten with love for the princess and agree to duel one another for her hand ("It's understood, I think"). Fitzbattleaxe comes up with a clever way to stall the Wise Men, by saying that in England, two rivals must entrust the lady at the centre of the controversy to an officer of household cavalry "as stakeholder". Thus, he and Zara can remain together.

Soon, the Utopians assemble, and Zara introduces the Flowers of Progress one by one – Fitzbattleaxe (of the army), Sir Bailey Barre (Q.C. and MP), Lord Dramaleigh (a Lord Chamberlain), Mr. Blushington (of the county council), Mr. Goldbury (a company promoter) and Captain Corcoran (of the navy – a joking reference to the character from Gilbert and Sullivan's early popular opera, H.M.S. Pinafore). The Utopian people are duly impressed, and they listen as Mr. Goldbury explains the British Limited Liability Companies law. The King decides to transform his entire country into a limited liability corporation – an innovation that even England herself has not yet accepted. Everyone but Scaphio, Phantis and Tarara is enthusiastic.

Act II

Fitzbattleaxe is concerned that the fervour of his love has affected his singing ("A tenor, all singers above"). He and Zara share a tender scene ("Words of love too loudly spoken"). Utopia has transformed itself into a "more perfect" replica of Britain – it has built an army, a navy, and courts, purified its literature, and wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Goldbury's proposal, so that every person now is a limited liability entity.

The Flowers of Progress exult in their success ("Society has quite forsaken"), and the people, pleased with English fashion, sing of the country's newfound glory ("Eagle high in cloudland soaring"). Scaphio and Phantis are furious because the change poses a threat to their power ("With fury deep we burn"). They demand that Paramount revoke the change, and when he refuses, they remind him of their power over his life ("If you think that when banded in unity"). But the King points out that they cannot blow up a limited company. Scaphio and Phantis plot with Tarara on how to reverse the course of events and retire ("With wily brain").

The younger princesses, Nekaya and Kalyba, meet with Mr. Goldbury and Lord Dramaleigh, who explain that English girls are not so demure and are instead hearty and fun-loving ("A wonderful joy our eyes to bless"). The princesses are pleased at the prospect of abandoning some of the "musty, fusty rules" that they have been living under ("Then I may sing and play?"). Meanwhile, Lady Sophy bemoans Paramount's flaw that prevents her loving him ("When but a maid of fifteen year"). The King, his dignity rediscovered, approaches Lady Sophy and tells her the truth about the articles written about him, and she now happily agrees to marry him ("Oh, rapture unrestrained").

Scaphio and Phantis have succeeded in convincing the people of Utopia that the changes are for the worse ("Upon our sea-girt land") – they have put an end to war, making the army and navy useless; sanitation is so good that doctors are unemployed; so perfect are the laws that crime has all but ended, emptying the courts and leaving lawyers unemployed – and all demand that the changes be revoked. Puzzled, Paramount asks his daughter for a solution, and, after a little prodding from Sir Bailey Barre, she realizes that she has forgotten "the most essential element" of British civilisation: Government by Party! With this adopted, each party will so confound the efforts of the other that no progress will be made, leading to the prosperity that everyone seeks. The crowd is overjoyed, Scaphio and Phantis are thrown in prison, and the curtain falls as the people sing their praises of "a little group of isles beyond the wave" – Great Britain.

Musical numbers

  • Introduction1Act I
  • 1. "In lazy languor motionless" (Phylla and Chorus of Girls)
  • 2. "O make way for the Wise Men" (Chorus)
  • 2a. "In every mental lore" (Scaphio and Phantis)
  • 3. "Let all your doubts take wing" (Scaphio and Phantis)
  • 4. "Quaff the nectar" (Chorus)
  • 4a. "A King of autocratic power we" (King with Chorus)
  • 4b. "Although of native maids the cream" (Nekaya and Kalyba)
  • 4c. "Bold-faced ranger" (Lady Sophy with Chorus)
  • 5. "First you're born" (King with Scaphio and Phantis)
  • 6. "Subjected to your heavenly gaze" (King and Lady Sophy)
  • 7. "Oh, maiden rich in Girton lore" (Zara, Fitz., Troopers, and Chorus)
  • 8. "Ah! gallant soldier" (Zara, Fitz., Troopers, and Chorus)
  • 9. "It's understood, I think" (Zara, Fitz., Scaphio, and Phantis)
  • 10. "Oh, admirable art" (Zara and Fitz.)
  • (11. Cut song for Zara, "Youth is a boon avowed", sung on the first night but now lost.)
  • 12. Act I Finale: "Although your Royal summons to appear" (Ensemble) and "When Britain sounds the trump of war" (Zara, Sir Bailey Barre, and Chorus)
  • 12a. "What these may be" (Zara, Dramaleigh, Blushington, and Chorus) and "A company promoter this" (Zara, Goldbury, and Chorus)
  • 12b. "I'm Captain Corcoran, K.C.B." (Capt. Corcoran with Chorus) and "Ye wand'rers from a mighty State" (Quartet, Chorus, and Soli)
  • 12c. "Some seven men form an association" (Mr. Goldbury with Chorus), "Well, at first sight it strikes us as dishonest" (Ensemble), and "Henceforward of a verity" (King Paramount and Ensemble)Act II
  • 13. "Oh, Zara!" and "A tenor, all singers above" (Fitz.)
  • 14. "Words of love too loudly spoken" (Zara and Fitz.)
  • 15. "Society has quite forsaken" (King with Chorus of Six Flowers of Progress)
  • 16. Entrance of Court
  • 17. Drawing Room Music
  • 18. "This ceremonial", "Eagle high in cloudland soaring" (King and Ensemble)
  • 19. "With fury deep we burn" (Scaphio, Phantis, and King Paramount)
  • 20. "If you think that when banded in unity" (King, Scaphio and Phantis)
  • 21. "With wily brain" (Scaphio, Phantis, and Tarara)
  • 22. "A wonderful joy our eyes to bless" (Mr. Goldbury)
  • 23. "Then I may sing and play?" (Nek., Kal., Lord D., and Mr. Goldbury)
  • 24. "Oh, would some demon pow'r", "When but a maid of fifteen year" (Lady Sophy)
  • 25. "Ah, Lady Sophy, then you love me!" (King and Lady Sophy)
  • 25a. "Oh, rapture unrestrained" (King and Lady Sophy)
  • 25b. Tarantella
  • 26. "Upon our sea-girt land" (Chorus)
  • 27. Finale Act II: "There's a little group of isles beyond the wave" (Zara, King Paramount, and Ensemble)

1 On the 1976 recording, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company preceded the Introduction with Sullivan's Imperial March, which he composed around the same time.

Historical cast information

The opening night principal cast and 1975 centenary cast were as follows:
Role 1893 1975
King Paramount the First Rutland Barrington Kenneth Sandford
Scaphio W. H. Denny John Reed
Phantis John Le Hay John Ayldon
Tarara Walter Passmore John Ellison
Calynx Bowden Haswell Michael Buchan
The Princess Zara Nancy McIntosh Pamela Field
The Princess Nekaya Emmie Owen Julia Goss
The Princess Kalyba Florence Perry Judi Merri
The Lady Sophy Rosina Brandram Lyndsie Holland
Salata Edith Johnston Beti Lloyd-Jones
Melene May Bell Marjorie Williams
Phylla Florence Easton Rosalind Griffiths
Lord Dramaleigh Scott Russell James Conroy-Ward
Captain Fitzbattleaxe Charles Kenningham Meston Reid
Captain Sir Edward Corcoran, KCB Lawrence Gridley John Broad
Mr. Goldbury R. Scott Fishe Michael Rayner
Sir Bailey Barre Hugh Enes Blackmore Colin Wright
Mr. Blushington Herbert Ralland David Porter
Soon after Sir Luke Fildes had been rewarded by a grateful country for his services to Art, Gilbert met him at a social gathering and congratulated him on his new honours. In the course of conversation, Sir Luke reminded Gilbert that the Dairy Maid "Patience" had been made up to exactly resemble the subject of his first successful picture, Where are you going to, my pretty maid? "Yes, I remember borrowing the idea for my milkmaid's costume from your picture," replied Gilbert, "but I have repaid that debt long ago by being the responsible cause of your new title."
"Responsible for my new title, how do you make that out?" asked the puzzled Sir Luke.
"Oh, it's easily explained," answered Gilbert. Didn't I write in Utopia:
"Who knows but we may count among our intellectual chickens
Like you, an Earl of Thackeray, and p'r'aps a Duke of Dickens
Lord Fildes and Viscount Millais (when they come) we'll welcome sweetly—
In short this happy country has been Anglicised completely!"
"Well, your prophecy is certainly a pattern of modified accuracy," exclaimed Sir Luke, "I would like to be similarly accurate in your case."
-From Edith A. Browne's "Stars of the Stage: W. S. Gilbert" (1907), page 93.

Recordings

Few professional recordings of this opera have been made. The 1976 D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recording is considered uninspired but competent. The 2001 Ohio Light Opera recording, although recorded with a semi-pro American cast, is preferred by some.Selected recordings

  • 1976 D'Oyly Carte – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Conductor: Royston Nash
  • 2001 Ohio Light Opera (with dialogue) – Conductor: J. Lynn Thompson

Notes

References

  • Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan, a Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195147693.
  • Allen, Reginald (1958). The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: The Heritage Press.
  • Bradley, Ian (1996). The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Browne, Edith A. (1907). Stars of the Stage: W. S. Gilbert. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head.
  • Graham, Bruce: "From Bambouli to Utopia: Offenbach's Whittington as a possible source for Utopia, Limited" in The Gaiety, Spring 2006, pp. 23-27. Editor: Roderick Murray.
  • Wolfson, John (1976). Final curtain: The last Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. London: Chappell in association with A. Deutsch. ISBN 0-903443-12-0

External links

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