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Foreword

by
Ian Bond


Such was Gilbert's anxiety to preserve harmony between himself and Sullivan during the writing of this opera that he discarded and rewrote almost more than in any other opera. So much so in fact that to include all material intended for this opera, this libretto would have to increase in size by almost half again. All the text included in this volume therefore has, at one time or another, been included in stage performances. For those wishing to read the discarded material, I would recommend either, Final Curtain, or The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan, although the latter is far less comprehensive.

Despite the many modifications and rewrites, when the opera appeared at the Savoy Theatre on the 7th October 1893, the first act ran for over 1 ¾ hours. Gilbert's reaction was to cut a considerable amount of dialogue (some immediately and some as the production progressed), and some of the lyrics, although with the exception of "Youth is a boon avowed" (see page 31), never an entire number.

Act Two did not escape either, although here most of the deletions were reserved for the final scene with its politically explosive content. Although there was a brilliant first night, UTOPIA was not the hoped for success, amounting to just 245 performances. The piece did continue on tour in the provinces until March 1900, and was taken to South Africa for the tour of 1902-3.

Although Rupert D'Oyly Carte planned to revive the piece in the 1920's, the project was abandoned due to the cost, and despite endless petitions, fans of the work had to wait until the D'Oyly Carte Centenary Season of 1975 for a revival of this unjustly neglected work. Unfortunately, the management of the company completely misjudged the public demand for seats and there were long queues out into the Strand on April 4th as the faithful waited vainly for returns. The piece was staged for a further four performances at the Royal Festival Hall during the summer season, but then, for some unfathomable reason was dropped from the repertoire never to be seen again.

Possibly due to the continuous rewriting and cutting, Gilbert's libretto seems far less cohesive than one is used to, making for some dull pages. Sullivan's musical style is pitched somewhere between the gaiety of THE GONDOLIERS and the rather heavier, sombre styles of IVANHOE and HADDON HALL, and it cannot be denied that UTOPIA (LIMITED) is a much darker, brooding work than any of the other G & S works.

Despite this, in a good production, there is much to enjoy in this opera - more than would be indicated by a cursory reading of the libretto or the vocal score. The major disappointment must be that, in the absence of the autographed full score, the musical setting of 'Youth is a boon avowed' does not appear to have survived. Apparently the score was put up for auction in aid of the British Red Cross in the 1920's and its current whereabouts is unknown.

The large cast with its bias towards male principal characters has prompted more than one amateur company in the recent past to impose a sex change on some of the 'Flowers', and in more than one production we have seen Dame Bailey Barre and Mrs Blushington.


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