Opera review: Scottish Opera: Utopia, Limited, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

With its with cutting references to Imperialist bluster, policy-on-the-hoof and even the ghost of irresponsible journalism catching up with a leader, Utopia, Limited strikes some remarkably poignant chords, writes Ken Walton

Scottish Opera's Arthur Bruce PIC: Jane Barlow
Scottish Opera's Arthur Bruce PIC: Jane Barlow

Scottish Opera: Utopia, Limited, Theatre Royal, Glasgow ****

It’s been a bumper week for Gilbert and Sullivan fans. Scottish Opera set the ball rolling with its capricious new production of The Gondoliers. And on Wednesday, Glasgow audiences got a one-off bonus with a semi-staged airing of the lesser-known Utopia, Limited. Edinburgh audiences will be afforded the same opportunity soon.

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The usual question for a work that has seldom, since its initial 1890s success, seen the light of day: is it worth resurrecting? Not perhaps in its original fullness, being then one of the famous Savoy Theatre’s longest and most expensive productions.

But here, in a judiciously edited version by stage director Stuart Maunder and musical director Derek Clark, presented with effective but limited dramaturgy (reusing the “Barataria” backdrop as thekingdom of Utopia) and fielding much the same excellent cast as Gondoliers, we experienced all that is good in the opera.

This is probably the most apposite time to revisit it, given the satire meted out by Gilbert on cynical “English” legislations and party politics of the time, which – with cutting references to Imperialist bluster, policy-on-the-hoof, even the ghost of irresponsible journalism catching up with a leader – strikes a remarkably poignant chord today.

Like Gondoliers, the cast and chorus is expansive, too many to mention in full. Outstanding were Ben McAteer’s charmingly easygoing King Paramount, soprano Elie Laugharne’s captivating Princess Zara, and among the upcoming stars, a tireless Arthur Bruce as wise-guy Phantis and slick-as-a-whistle sidekick to G&S old hat Richard Suart’s Scaphio.

Sullivan’s music is intriguing, venturing into newer sophisticated ground, but never entirely escaping the trade mark levity that earned him his fame and fortune. As G&S’s go, this is business as usual, but only after some judicious fixing.

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