« Utopia, Limited » ouvrit ses portes le 7 octobre 1893 au Savoy Theatre et tint l’affiche 245 représentations. C’était l’avant-dernière collaboration entre Gilbert et Sullivan, ouvrant plus de deux ans seulement après la fermeture de « Gondoliers », suite à un litige juridique entre Gilbert d’une part et Carte et Sullivan de l’autre, la célèbre « Carpet Quarrel » (« la dispute du tapis »). En dépit de leurs tentatives pour rafistoler leur relation, ils ne seront plus jamais sur les mêmes bases que celle des années ‘80.
« Utopia, Limited » fut la mise en scène la plus extravagante de tous les Savoy-Opera. Elle nécessita un très grand casting. Le livret de Gilbert était moins étroitement construit que les précédents et, pour certains, la partition est la plus faible de Sullivan. Cela peut expliquer pourquoi cette œuvre a toujours été moins rejouée que les autres. Mais la pièce n’est pas sans admirateurs. George Bernard Shaw a déclaré : « J’ai apprécié la partition d’Utopia plus que celle de n’importe lequel des Savoy-Opera précédents. »
« Utopia, Limited » est une satire de l’impérialisme britannique. Plus spécifiquement, il critique les « société à responsabilité limitée » et la notion de faillite sans pénalité. Dans un complot, un groupe de bureaucrates et d’officiers anglais débarquent dans une île idyllique des mers du Sud, Utopia, à la demande de la princesse Zara, fille du roi Paramount, éduquée en Angleterre, pour aligner la politique et la morale d’Utopia sur les normes impeccables de l’Angleterre.
In 1890, 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 was made a defendant in the case, and the partnership disbanded. Gilbert vowed to write no more operas for the Savoy, and after The Gondoliers closed in 1891, Gilbert withdrew the performance rights to his libretti. It was not until October 1891, after conversations with their publisher Tom Chappell, that Gilbert and Sullivan reconciled. After fulfilling their respective open commitments Gilbert and Sullivan were able to plan to renew their collaboration on a new opera, Utopia, Limited. The lawsuit, however, 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 November 1892, after lengthy and delicate discussions over the financial arrangements for a new opera, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte were able to reach an agreement and set to work on the new opera. 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 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. Nonetheless, Sullivan completed the setting of Gilbert's first act within a month, and received particular congratulations from his collaborator for the finale, which Gilbert considered the best Sullivan had composed. 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. The scenery, properties and costumes cost an unprecedented total of £7,200.
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 first wrote about her six-year stint as governess to the children of the king of Siam (Thailand) in The English Governess at the Siamese Court. The two ladies and their stories are likely to have 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 the British Empire, jingoism, 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, Our Island Home, Topsyturveydom, and some of his other early works, especially The Happy Land. 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. Gilbert's biographer Jane Stedman calls this a "Gilbertian invasion plot".
The opera's satiric treatment of limited liability entities that are not required to honour their obligations and scandal in the monarchy was effective in 1893 and still resonates 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, Gilbert indulges in some small topical touches throughout the libretto. For instance, he was up-to-date in his technological references (as he had been in H.M.S. Pinafore with the mention of the telephone), referencing George Eastman's new product, the Kodak camera, and its slogan, "You Press the Button, We Do the Rest". 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. Sullivan joins in the parody, underlining the mock praise of all things English with a repeated motif throughout the score based on the melody of "Rule Britannia!".
Reception and aftermath
The Savoy audiences were glad to see Gilbert and Sullivan back together, and the first-night reception was rapturous. Sullivan wrote in his diary, "Went into the orchestra at 8.15 sharp. My ovation lasted 65 seconds! Piece went wonderfully well – not a hitch of any kind, and afterwards G. and I had a double call." The critics were divided on the merits of the piece. Punch, habitually hostile to Gilbert, commented, "'Limited' it is, in more senses than one." The Standard, by contrast, said, "Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are here at their very best … The wit, humour and satire of the book have not been surpassed in any of the author's previous operas, the composer's fascinating vein of melody flows as freshly as ever, and the orchestration is full of characteristically happy fancies … A more complete success has never been achieved in comic opera, even at the Savoy." The Pall Mall Gazette also praised Sullivan's contribution, but disparaged Gilbert's: in its view the music "has not its equal in the whole Sullivan and Gilbert series", but the book had "not merely a sense of cheapness but the sense of weariness even to exhaustion." The Era commented that Gilbert's "wit was as sparkling and his satire as keen as ever," and thought the council scene "screamingly funny". The Observer judged that Gilbert had lost none of his merits, and that "wit abounds" and "is as spontaneous as ever: not forced or vulgarised, and his rhymes are always faultless."
Some critics thought it a weakness that the work contained references to the earlier Gilbert and Sullivan operas, for example in the re-use of the character Captain Corcoran, and communications between King Paramount and the Mikado of Japan. The Pall Mall Gazette observed, "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 his name is most generally associated. ... Mr. Gilbert has failed to make the old seem new". The Musical Times reported the theatregoing public's rejoicing that the partners were reunited, but added: “[A]ll would have indulged in renewed jubilations had Utopia (Limited) proved equal in humour and general freshness to the most successful of the companion works. This, unfortunately, cannot be said, although, of course, as compared with ordinary productions of the opéra bouffe class it stands out sufficiently clear. Mr. Gilbert could not put forward a silly or inane book, and Sir Arthur Sullivan could not pen music otherwise than refined, tuneful, and characterised by musicianly touches. It is only in comparison with such masterpieces of humour and dramatic and musical satire as Patience, The Mikado, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers that the libretto of Utopia (Limited) seems a trifle dull, particularly in the first Act, and the music for the most part reminiscent rather than fresh.”
The Daily News and The Globe both noted that Act I ran longer than any previous Savoy Opera and needed pruning. The Manchester Guardian praised the work, but commented that there was "much (sometimes too much) Gilbertian dialogue". 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.
The show made a modest profit, despite the unusually high cost of staging it. In competition with the musical comedies' fashion pageantry, the drawing room scene was of an unprecedented opulence. The Manchester Guardian called it "one of the most magnificent ever beheld on the stage", and even Punch praised the splendour of the production, but it added thousands of pounds of expense, making Utopia the most expensive of all of the Savoy Operas. The taste of the London theatre-going 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 introduced Gilbert's last protégée, Nancy McIntosh, as Princess Zara, and the role was much expanded to accommodate her. According to the 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 years passed before Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated again, on their last work, The Grand Duke.
Before the end of October, the title of the piece was changed from Utopia (Limited) to Utopia, Limited. Utopia, Limited ran for 245 performances, a modest success by the standards of the late Victorian theatre; although it was a shorter run than any of Gilbert and Sullivan's 1880s collaborations, it was the longest run at the Savoy in the 1890s. 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 a D'Oyly Carte production in New York in 1894, performances in the D'Oyly Carte South African tour of 1902–03, and a J. C. Williamson production in Australia and New Zealand in 1905 and 1906, managed by Henry Bracy. Rupert D'Oyly Carte considered producing a revival in 1925, but the cost of the production was found to be too great, and the proposed revival was abandoned. Utopia was not revived by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until 4 April 1975, during the company's centenary season at the Savoy Theatre, directed by Michael Heyland. The single performance was so oversubscribed that the company arranged to give four further performances at the Royal Festival Hall in London later that year.
Various amateur companies performed the opera during the 20th century, and it has enjoyed occasional professional productions in the U.S. by professional companies such as the American Savoyards in the 1950s and 1960s, the Light Opera of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s, Light Opera Works in Chicago in 1984 and Ohio Light Opera in 2001. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players also gave a staged concert performance in celebration of the opera's centenary in 1993 and again in 2010. The Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company gave two fully staged performances at the 18th International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England in 2011, producing a commercial video of the production. 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 an amateur production has been seen most summers at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.
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)
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)
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)
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