Opera Scotland

Utopia Limited or The Flowers of Progress

Music

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)

Text

 W S Gilbert ( (1836-1911).

Source

 Original.

 

Premières

First performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 7 October 1893.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 29 January 1894.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Utopia is the last but one of Sullivan’s collaborations with Gilbert, and the accepted view has generally been that their previous piece, The Gondoliers, was their last product of good quality. In the next three years he had produced two successful romantic operas in Ivanhoe and Haddon Hall. After the initial bout of enthusiasm including a couple of provincial tours, Utopia was never revived by the D’Oyly Carte Company. The main reason for this was that the designs for sets and costumes were prohibitively expensive.

However, much of Sullivan’s music is of very high quality, and Gilbert produces perhaps his most savagely satirical plot. He attacks a number of cherished British institutions at once – the City of London and Royalty in particular, but also the growth of local government, the fashion for anarchist outrages, and the ineffectiveness of the armed services. Most of his skits should work well for a modern audience, including the importance to a tenor of producing a top C when required at moments of high emotion. Only the Christy Minstrels spoof in the second act is now unacceptable unless a director can come up with an imaginative way to stage it - sadly, it is, musically, one of the strongest sections of the score.

 

Main Characters

King Paramount of Utopia (bass-baritone)

Scaphio and Phantis, two Wise Men (baritone and bass)

Tarara, Public Exploder (baritone)

Mr Goldbury, a company promoter (baritone)

Captain Fitzbattleaxe, First Life Guards (tenor)

Princess Zara, eldest daughter of Paramount (soprano)

Nekaya and Kalyba, her younger sisters (mezzo & soprano)

Lady Sophy, English governess to the younger princesses (contralto)

 

Plot Summary

The opera is located on the island of Utopia, located in the South Seas, and ruled by King Paramount. He is under the control of several corrupt officials, and wishes to reform the government on British lines. He has sent Zara to be educated at Girton, and she now returns, bringing with her the ‘Flowers of Progress’ – examples of the best of British (almost like a team of management consultants) who will introduce the changes. They represent army and navy, the city (including an early version of privatisation), the Law, a County Councillor (to introduce proper drainage and roads), and a representative of the Lord Chamberlain’s office to ensure proper censorship.

The reforms take effect, but something important has been forgotten…..

 

RECORDINGS

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1975

Conductor: Royston Nash

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Pamela Field (Zara), Meston Reid (FitzBattleaxe), Kenneth Sandford (Paramount).

The D’Oyly Carte Company celebrated the centenary of the opening of Trial By Jury by staging an extended season at the Savoy Theatre. For this occasion they mounted a rare production of Utopia Limited and a concert of The Grand Duke so that they could be recorded for the first time. In most respects Utopia works well, with excellent diction from all concerned. Perhaps Meston Reid’s tenor lacks the sweetness that would be ideal, but he gives a fine performance of his big aria “A tenor all singers above”. All the set pieces work well, and the extended finale to the first act, lasting twenty minutes, and explaining the mysteries of Company Law, makes the neglect of the work seem surprising. However the list of solo roles is longer than for most of the G & S canon, thus adding to the cost of staging it.

The Cast

Calynx
 the Utopian Vice-Chamberlain
Captain FitzBattleaxe
 First Life Guards
Captain Sir Edward Corcoran, KCB
 of the Royal Navy
King Paramount the First
 King of Utopia
Lady Sophy
 an English Gouvernante
Lord Dramaleigh
 a British Lord Chamberlain
Melene
 a Utopian Maiden
Mr Blushington
 of the County Council
Mr Goldbury
 a Company Promoter, later Comptroller of Utopian Household
Phantis
 a Judge of the Utopian Supreme Court
Phylla
 a Utopian Maiden
Princess Kalyba
 Youngest Daughter of King Paramount
Princess Nekaya
 Second Daughter of King Paramount
Princess Zara
 Eldest Daughter of King Paramount
Salata
 a Utopian Maiden
Scaphio
 a Judge of the Utopian Supreme Court
Sir Bailey Barre, QC, MP
 a Barrister and Politician
Tarara
 the Public Exploder

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