Utopia, Ltd.

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  • Written by William S. Gilbert ; Composed by Arthur Sullivan
    Premiered 7 Oct 1893
    Initial run of 245 performances

    From Benford's Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon:

    Although The Gondoliers was completed in a period of happy reconciliation, the cordial relationship was soon shattered by a bitter quarrel. It started out between Gilbert and Carte, but Sullivan was forced to take sides and chose to ally himself with Carte. The fight was sparked by a bookkeeping question relating to new carpeting in the theater. Gilbert believed that Carte’s allocation of the expense was unfair to both Sullivan and himself in that it reduced their rightful share of the profits. That was the start, and it led to other accusations and personal attacks. Gilbert, who always loved a battle, took the matter to court and won his case. This acutely embarrassing public brawl was extremely distasteful to Sullivan. The partnership lay shattered, and the composer turned his undivided attention to the grand opera which his Queen had suggested. Ivanhoe opened in Carte’s new Royal English Opera House early in 1891. The opus was well-received and enjoyed a long run. Unfortunately, Carte had not commissioned a replacement, so Ivanhoe failed to generate a lasting demand for English opera. Ironically, although Queen Victoria had suggested a grand opera, when she wanted entertainment at Windsor Castle it was The Gondoliers, not Ivanhoe, that she specified. Sullivan now felt compelled by sheer economic necessity to rejoin Gilbert. The latter, meanwhile, had in all probability learned about Kaiulani, Drawing of Crown-Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii (1875-1899)a thirteen year old Hawaiian princess and heiress-elect to the Hawaiian throne, who in 1889 had been shipped off to England to be educated (37). The new opera, Utopia Limited, with its south sea island setting (and British-educated princess) opened at the Savoy on October 7, 1893. Although widely praised by the critics, the opera enjoyed only moderate success with the public and closed after 245 performances.

    Utopia Limited satirizes many conventions of the Victorian age and, as such, is rather esoteric for American audiences. Worse yet, the wounds of the carpet quarrel were never completely healed, and the rapport between the two artists was awkward at best. The opera is rarely performed today; but given a few judicious cuts, imaginative direction, and a competent cast, Utopia Limited offers many delights.