"Utopia (Limited)"

or "The Flowers of Progress"

Potted Plot | History | First Night Critics | Did You Know? | Original Cast | Behind the Scenes

Picture of first night programme

First performed at the Savoy Theatre, London, on October 7th, 1893

The setting is a Utopian Palm Grove in the gardens of King Paramount's Palace.

Utopian maidens are discovered lying about thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Calynx, the Vice-Chamberlain, arrives with the news that Princess Zara, the King's eldest daughter, is returning to Utopia after several years study at Girton College in England. Soon Utopia will be completely anglicized.

Tarara, the Public-Exploder, enters. His job is to blow up anything that is denounced by the two Utopian Judges, Scaphio and Phantis. This duty extends to even blowing up the King should the Judges decree. Having come across a gossip paper called the "Palace Peeper", which accuses the King of a variety of disgraceful practices, Tarara is bewildered that his services have not already been required.

Scaphio and Phantis enter. When alone, Phantis confesses that, at fifty-five, he passionately loves Zara. Scaphio, on the other hand, says he has never known what love is.

King Paramount arrives and announces that his two younger daughters, Nekaya and Kalyba, who have been "finished" by an English lady, shall be exhibited daily as examples of maidenly perfection.

The girls arrive followed by the Lady Sophy, a rather 'mature' English lady. She proceeds to lecture all on proper behaviour.

When alone with Scaphio and Phantis, the King reveals that all the scandal in the "Palace Peeper" was in fact written by the King himself at the command of the two Judges.

The Lady Sophy appears. She is very much concerned about all the gossip about the King in the "Palace Peeper". She cannot understand why the King hasn't sought out the writer and had him punished. The King replies that he is still thinking of a drastic punishment.

When all have left, the stage fills with the Court as they herald the arrival of Princess Zara and the four troopers that make up her escort. It is obvious that the Princess is very much attracted to Captain Fitzbattleaxe of the Guards.

Scaphio and Phantis appear and it becomes clear that both are head over heels in love with the Princess. Zara then explains that when two gentlemen are in love with the same lady, and until it is settled which of them is to blow the others brain's out, the lady is entrusted to an officer of the Household Cavalry.

When alone with his daughter, the King breaks down and tells her that he is far from being an absolute monarch. He is completely controlled by Scaphio and Phantis. Conveniently, the Princess has brought with her six representatives of the principal causes that have tended to make England the powerful, happy and blameless country it is.

The 'experts' all arrive and are introduced. It is Mr Goldbury, the company promoter, who makes himself most effectively heard. He explains the in and outs of a Limited Company - how you can, one day, wind one up, and the next, start another.

"Though a Rothschild you may be
In your own capacity,
As a Company you've come to utter sorrow -
But the Liquidators say,
'Never mind - you needn't pay',
So you start another Company tomorrow!"

Goldbury admits that Great Britain has not yet come to being governed on the Joint Stock principle. The King enthusiastically decides to be the first sovereign to register under the Joint Stock Company's Act of Sixty-Two.

Act Two is set in the Throne Room of the Palace.

Zara and Fitzbattleaxe are alone. Utopia is being slowly Anglicized. Mr Goldbury has even gone so far as to turn every man, woman and child into a limited liability company.

The King holds his first cabinet meeting. He points out that in following Great Britain's courtly ways they will gloriously succeed or nobly fail.

Scaphio and Phantis complain that the innovations of the new regime have meant that all their private schemes are ruined. The King is now a corporation and they are helpless. They decide on a plan and dance off.

Lady Sophy thinking she is alone tells of her vow to unite with a King who led a blameless life. King Paramount overhears all this and explains the truth about the "Palace Peeper". They kiss.

The stage fills with the chorus, along with Scaphio, Phantis and Tarara. Under the new administration, the Army and Navy are so strong that war is impossible. The doctors are out of work because there is no disease. Likewise the lawyers, because there is no crime.

The King has a brain wave. They have omitted one feature of the English system - Government by Party. All will yet be well. One party will surely undo all that the other party has done.

Scaphio and Phantis are taken away to jail and there is general celebration.

Click here for a complete libretto to Utopia Ltd.

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Utopia Theatre Poster

A very bitter quarrel had erupted after the production of "The Gondoliers" that separated the composer and librettist for two years. Several other comic operas by popular composers of the period were presented at the Savoy but none received the success of the popular duo. The Savoy was closed for three months after an ill-fated opera "Jane Annie", by J.M. Barrie, A. Conan Doyle and Ernest Ford, only survived 50 performances. Savoyards were cheered by the news that Gilbert and Sullivan had patched up their quarrel and were working on a new opera.

Gilbert was wanting a visual spectacle for the new production. Hawes Craven created two spectacular South Seas Island settings and the costumes were some of the most unusual ever to be seen on the stage at the Savoy Theatre.

The most lavish of all Gilbert's effects was the Drawing Room Scene in Act 2 in which all the members of the Utopian Court are presented to King Paramount in the exact manner of a Court presentation at Buckingham Palace. A parquet floor was built to cover the stage of the Savoy for the event. It took five costumiers to make the dresses worn by the ladies in that scene alone. Gilbert hired a female teacher of deportment to come to some of the rehearsals to teach the members of the cast how to walk, stand and bow in the presence of royalty.

The preliminary expenses of "Utopia Limited" came to £7200. This was staggering. The cost of "The Gondoliers", over which the quarrel had come about, had only been £4500!

The final dress rehearsal of "Utopia Limited" was witnessed by critics and others. Gilbert said that the critics had attacked his previous work because they had not understood it, and he hoped that if they had the opportunity of seeing an opera twice running it would give their intelligence's time to function before writing their criticisms. From his point of view he was right, for the press were almost unanimous in praise of the piece.

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First night critics


The Times

"No doubt Mr. Carte would have found it convenient to enlarge his theatre to three times its size, for it is said on good authority that the demand for seats at the production was greater than on any former occasions."

Daily News

"The ringing cheers which on the fall of the curtain upon Utopia (Limited) on Saturday night greeted Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, as hand in hand they stepped to the footlights, bore ample testimony to the delight of the audience in welcoming back to the Savoy, the author and composer who during the past sixteen years have given the public so much hearty and innocent pleasure."

Sunday Times

"It was a first night of first nights. The house was crammed with 'all London,' a term that means (at this season of the year) any number of critics and all who are left to represent that rather mixed community usually termed 'Society'. There was not a place in the house that had not its seat-holder, and the unreserved parts of the theatre were besieged from an early hour in the afternoon."


"Pleasant expectation was at its highest, and the reception accorded to the most popular of English composers when he appeared to take the conductor's chair strikingly proved in what estimation he and his works are held."

The Times

"The overture, it is true, is meagre in extent and poor in quality, consisting of little more than a trivial tune employed afterwards to accompany the ceremonial at the drawing-room held by Princess Zara."

The Times

"..the action occupies two extremely long acts, but it cannot be said that there is a single dull moment from beginning to end, and this in spite of the almost complete absence of anything in the shape of plot."

Daily News

"Whispers there may have been that the pruning knife might judiciously be applied to certain scenes in the first act, which is far too long, and at times does not go so briskly as it ought."

The Times

"Messes. Denny and Le hay are admirably funny as the two Judges, and their dresses in the first act, like those of all the Utopians, are pleasantly fantastic. Mr. Scott Fishe, as the company promoter, has one or two good songs to sing, and sings them well; and Mr. W. Passmore is duly energetic as Tarara, the Public Exploder. Miss Nancy MacIntosh sings and acts in a way that promises excellently for her future career, if she elects to forsake the work of a concert-singer, in which she has already made a most successful start. She is a most refined representative of the Princess, and her delivery of her spoken lines, particularly of a speech in which she quotes from "An expurgated Juvenal," is extremely good."

Sunday Times

"The Drawing-Room scene, superbly managed, brought down a hearty round of applause...The handsome throne-room, with its dazzling glitter of incandescent lamps and the glorious army of rich uniforms and gowns, produced an impression quite unprecedented in the annals of Savoy comic opera."

Daily Graphic

"Miss Rosina Brandram never sang with greater charm of voice...She presented a perfect picture of primness and prudery...and she played the part like a true comedian."

World (George Bernard Shaw)

"I enjoyed the score of Utopia more than that of any of any of the previous Savoy operas...The orchestral work is charmingly humorous; and as I happen to mean by this only what I say, perhaps I had better warn my readers not to infer that Utopia is full of buffooneries with the bassoon and piccolo, or of patter and tum-tum. Whoever can listen to such caressing wind parts - zephyr parts, in fact - as those in the trio for the King and the two Judges in the first act, without being coaxed to feel pleased and amused, is not fit even for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; wilst anyone whose ears are capable of taking in more than one thing at a time must be tickled by the sudden busyness of the orchestra as the city man takes up the parable. I also confidently recommend those who go into solemn academic raptures over themes "in diminution" to go and hear how prettily the chorus of the Christy Minstrel song (borrowed from the plantation dance, 'Johnnie, get a gun') is used, very much in diminution, to make an exquisite mock-banjo accompaniment. In these examples we are on the plane, not of the bones and tambourine, but of Mozart's accompaniments to 'Soave sia il vento' in Cosi fan tutte and the entry of the gardener in Le Nozze di Figaro."

Sunday Times

"(On the descent of the second-act curtain) Sir Arthur Sullivan and Mr. Gilbert came forward, and shaking each other by the hand, the old comrades bowed their thanks and retired; then, after Mr. Charles Harris (the stage director) and Mr. D'Oyly Carte had also been called, the popular collaborateurs were compelled to come forth once more to acknowledge another hearty demonstration."

Click here to check out the reviews for the first Australia production.

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Did you know?

After The Gondoliers, the ability of the two authors to get together and create was increasingly weakened by their advancing ages and bad health - Sullivan's kidneys and Gilbert's gout. Gilbert had tried working with other composers none of whom could compare to Sullivan's ability of matching score to words. Eventually a new opera was agreed upon and both parties were on tender hooks with each other - both wanting the next venture to succeed.

In 1893, at a party given by eminent musician/teacher Georg Henschel, Gilbert was introduced to a young American soprano, Nancy McIntosh, who had arrived in England to study voice. Infatuated with her gifts, Gilbert redesigns the libretto of Utopia, Limited with her in mind for the leading role. Although Sullivan was "Disappointed in her voice," she was hired for the one production.

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Behind the scenes

When Mrs Carte asked Gilbert for a donation for an orchestral charity, he replied: "I hate the orchestra. They take up a lot of paying stalls - they are the most cantankerous and independent set in the theatre - and they play so loud that my words can't be heard. Moreover, like many other high-souled and independent specimens of Nature's nobility, they are the first to come begging, cap in hand, when they are in difficulties. Having thus blown off steam, I have much pleasure in sending five guineas for the fund."

Gilbert and Sullivan had become so important to their publishers, Chappell & Company, that whenever a new operetta wentinto rehearsall an entire printing press and operator were put at Mr. Gilbert's disposal. A small edition of the libretto was always made available to the principals before rehearsals began. If changes, or rewrites, were ever made by Gilbert then these would be rushed to the printing press and corrections made to the plates. It was customary to sell librettos in the theatre on the first night of each opera and these became the first edition of the libretto. If, during the first week, any other changes were made then these were printed and the earlier copies withdrawn.

Gout was an ongoing problem which faced Gilbert during the later part of his life. During rehearsals for Utopia he wrote to Mrs. Carte:
"I am sorry to say I have had a bad relapse and am now completely crippled.
I am sending up to town for a pair of crutches, so that I may be enabled to turn up at the reading on Thursday."

Several times he had to use a carrying-chair to make it to the stage.

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