Opera Scotland

G&S reunited with D'oyly Carte

Utopia, Limited in Scotland

Posted 25 Sep 2021

Utopia, Limited received its first performance in Scotland on 29 January 1894 at the Royalty Theatre, Glasgow. 

The D'Oyly Carte company remained there for four weeks before moving to the Edinburgh Lyceum for a further two. Later on, in that summer, the company gave a further fortnight in each of the central belt cities. This total of seventy performances was an astonishing figure for the time.  While the critical reception was mixed, it is clear that the work was a popular success.

There are additional reasons, however, for its success. While the D'Oyly Carte company had always toured with hampers of costumes, they had generally used reasonably appropriate sets and props concocted by each of the theatres they visited. By this time, sets were also brought on the tour, copies of the original London ones. For Utopia, these were particularly extravagant and expensive. It was therefore easier and more profitable to remain in a given theatre for longer.  It also had the effect of discouraging visits to the northern cities, Dundee and Aberdeen. The components of this exotic spectacle quickly wore out, and the opera soon fell from the D'Oyly Carte repertoire. Utopia, Limited was not performed professionally in Scotland during the twentieth century.

In the autumn of 1894, however, a second group, Mr D'Oyly Carte's 'A' Company, arrived in Scotland to spread Utopia, Limited more widely, usually in one-night stands. There was no orchestra, just a piano, and while there was a complete cast of soloists, most of them were also used to beef up the chorus as required. While the costumes were authentic, any sets were much simplified for performance in town halls and other venues with limited stage facilities. Any similarity to Scottish Opera's small-scale touring must be coincidental.

Several of the principals had experience in shorter roles in London or on tour, while others would quickly gain promotion to the main touring company. Louie René, cast here as Lady Sophy, would go on to sing the 'elderly lady' contralto parts in the major cities up to the outbreak of war in 1914. This mini - production could be seen not in Dundee, but in Perth and Cupar, not in Aberdeen, but in Peterhead and Montrose.

In 1898 the full staging was revived suitably simplified to allow it to join the D'Oyly Carte touring repertoire, if only briefly. By this time the pattern was developing that would serve the company for the next eighty years, with six different G & S works performed in a week. On Monday, 8 August, the company opened at Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee, with The Mikado, followed by The Gondoliers, The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Utopia Limited, and The Yeomen of the Guard.

By performing Utopia on the Friday the touring orchestral principals had time to coach the resident pit band in the 'new' unknown work. They would be expected to know the popular operas already. 

The singers included well-known stars of the day, including Fred Billington (Paramount), Richard Clarke (FitzBattleaxe) and Kate Forster (Sophy).  W H Leon (Scaphio) had previously sung that part on the small-scale 1894 tour, but was now singing leading roles, including the Mikado, with the main company.

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