Scottish Opera: Utopia, Limited, Theater Royal, Glasgow ****
It has been an exceptional week for Gilbert and Sullivan fans. The Scottish Opera got the ball rolling with its capricious new production of The Gondoliers. And on Wednesday, Glasgow audiences got a one-time bonus with a semi-staged broadcast of the lesser-known Utopia, Limited. The Edinburgh public will soon have the same opportunity.
The usual question for a work that has rarely seen the light of day since its first success in the 1890s: is it worth resuscitating? Perhaps not in its original fullness, being then one of the longest and most expensive productions of the famous ThÃ©Ã¢tre de Savoie.
But here, in a version aptly edited by director Stuart Maunder and musical director Derek Clark, presented with effective but limited dramaturgy (reusing the ‘Barataria’ backdrop as the realm of utopia) and featuring pretty much the same great cast as the Gondoliers, we’ve experienced everything that’s good in opera.
This is probably the most opportune time to revisit it, given Gilbert’s satire on the cynical “English” legislation and party politics of the day, which – with sharp references to imperialist swaggering, politics on foot, even at the ghost of irresponsible journalism catching up with a leader – strikes a remarkably poignant chord today.
Like Gondoliers, the cast and chorus are vast, too numerous to mention in full. Notable were the charming and laid-back Paramount King of Ben McAteer, the captivating Princess Zara of soprano Elie Laugharne, and among the stars to come, a tireless Arthur Bruce as sage Phantis and skillful sidekick in old hat of G&S Richard Suart Scaphio.
Sullivan’s music is intriguing, venturing into sophisticated new ground, but never entirely escaping the lightness of the brand that has brought him fame and fortune. For G&S, it’s business as usual, but only after some thoughtful fixes.
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