Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


To cut or not to cut?

7.1 - Ought we to rearrange? Cut? Add? If so, what?

David Craven, whilst looking for pointers for Utopia's lack of success and popularity, pondered: Is it because of a first act which, in the words of the Sunday Times, could do with a degree of compression?

Robert Jones: Amongst other problems. It is certainly long, and takes forever to present the basic, necessary characters and plotlines. It tends to wander off now and then without good reason.

David Craven: One of Utopia Ltd's more interesting features is a very long first act. This first act, at least to many of our modern audiences, is too long. This leads to another series of questions. In Philadelphia the Oberlin production of Princess Ida divided the show into five acts (although as they presented the show with NO intermissions this dividing was purely academic). Could the pacing or timing of Utopia be improved by changing the location of the Act break or by dividing it into three acts instead of two?

Paul McShane: Granted, there are dead spots in Act I (in Act II, too), and I would recommend cutting a couple of numbers in each act. As we have seen, Act I is more than twice as long as Pinafore's first act. But I think there are dead spots in all the operas that leave me cold (more on this when we come to other OOTW's), and cutting Utopia back by - say - two songs in each act would leave it of acceptable length, and of (IMHO) excellent quality.

David Craven: In a similar vein, could the scenes be reordered with one or more scenes moved to Act II in order to better balance the acts?

Tom Shepard: I don't think it would help things appreciably.

Marc Shepherd: I suppose this might be possible, but at that point you're rewriting the opera (exactly what Gilbert should have done, but didn't). I'm not about to attempt it, but I wish the best of luck to anyone who wants to try.

Paul McShane: The only changes I would make would be to cut a couple of numbers from each Act - see above. My cuts would be 'A King of autocratic power', 'Subjected to your heavenly gaze', 'A wonderful joy our eyes to bless' and from 'When but a maid of fifteen year' to 'The author on the spot (ugh!)'. This would bring Utopia back to about the length of the Mikado - just right, and just as good (said he, ducking for cover). I think that trying to tinker with the love story would cause more problems than it solved, and that in nearly all the other operas, Act I is significantly longer than Act II - so why make any more changes?

Nick Sales: David Craven is quite correct in that it is most important to consider your audience. Yes, I agree that Utopia must be cut in some measure, at least when being presented to the hoi polloi. However, as noted, when you are playing to a guaranteed audience (more or less), such as at the G&S festival, a cut or cuts is not vital. Witness the winning show from the first (1994) festival at Buxton - Hancock County's Utopia. From memory this show went ahead not only without cuts, but with an additional number - and was a great success, both in terms of audience reaction, and of course adjudication.

Don Smith: Not true: Hancock County cut "First You're Born."

Ron Orenstein: "First You're Born" - I think this is the most underrated number in the show, a regrettable cut and a favourite of mine. I have never understood cutting it and leaving in "A king of autocratic power", which although closer to the plot line is a dreadful song.

Marc Shepherd: I find "First You're Born" an excellent lyric, with a capable (if not outstanding) setting. Unfortunately, it is an extremely difficult song to enunciate clearly in a large theater. As I recall, most Utopias that I've seen have cut the number. But, when it has been left in, my experience was that the audience didn't "get it." Obviously, Kenneth Sandford in 1975 proved that it can be done successfully, but it's still difficult.

Tom Shepard: Perhaps "First You're Born" is being overly maligned. It is something of a bio of the King, something of a WSG life-statement, and it is more "humanity oriented" than "commercial." I freely admit that the music is no prize, but Sullivan often subjugated his music when the meaning of the text was (excuse the pun) paramount. I can easily defend cutting down "A King of Autocratic Power We" but I think the King deserves his moment of philosophical irony in "First You're Born".

Robert Jones: Certainly, but no two people are likely to agree on what to cut. For example, Ronald Orenstein thinks "First you're born" is underrated and "A king of autocratic power" never would be missed. I think the reverse. You can't please everybody, even if You're WSG! There are so many things to take into account if you're brave enough to rewrite UL.

Ralph MacPhail: I like the song because it is a more cynically stated version of a metaphor used eleven years earlier:

"Life is a joke that has just begun" (at age eighteen and under)

becomes a joke that increases day by day until (at three-score and ten) "the joke is over!"


David Craven: Are there things which can be cut from Act I (and for that matter Act II) which will improve the timing and the pacing. (Some people argue that Utopia's largest problem is an imperfect editing job).

Tom Shepard: Editing will help, but Utopia needs more good numbers than it has.

Bill Snyder: Having directed it rather successfully twice, the music director and I had to prune and/or inflate the show to fit the cast and audience.

David Craven: I agree that it is important to consider the audience. For example, a full fledged production of Utopia Ltd. is far more likely to be well received at a Gilbert and Sullivan festival than at, for example, the Illinois State Fair. As you are in Boston, a town noted for its political acumen and activism, you are more likely to find an audience which is able to understand sophisticated political humor than in other parts of the country. Thus the (theoretical) cuts would be different than a production, for example, in Los Angeles.

Tom Shepard: I still maintain that, except for Grand Duke and Utopia, which are dramatically very floppy, and - in the case of Utopia - musically vapid too much of the time -

I still maintain that an historic revival should present as much of the original material as possible, that the neatness of the book is subsumed by the nostalgic value of presenting the complete score

Ron Orenstein: At St Pats we cut ALL of the Scaphio-Phantis-Zara plot, a considerable improvement - this was also done at U of Michigan - and no one missed it!

7.2 - Ought we to add something?

David Craven: Are there additions which could be made to Utopia which would improve the show. For example, the dispute between the two wise men over Zara, in the mind of many, is not well resolved. Could the addition of another dialogue scene or even another song help resolve this better... or should the love story basically be cut?

Tom Shepard: It's not worth fussing with.

Robert Jones: You'd have to be very brave to compete with WSG, even at his (arguably) worst. And I think you'd be better served to lop off the dead branches than to cover them up with new foliage.

7.3 - Durham Savoyards Utopia (Un)limited

Gene Leonardi posted a lengthy statement from Randolph Umberger, the artistic director of the Durham Savoyards who were at the time of the original discussion preparing to produce an extensively revised version of the opera, titled "Utopia (UN)LIMITED". This caused some feedback, notably from dedicated Gilbertian, Andrew Crowther.

Quote: "It is serendipitous that our production of Utopia coincides with the current discussion of the same. Having directed full scale productions of all the operas at least once, we find great fun in such banter; but we take great care to avoid producing museum pieces for the sake of museum pieces. We've enjoyed the recent discussion of Hawaiian music, but find it a case in point. Though these islands may very well have been Gilbert's intended site, choosing them as the location for a production could become a visual commonplace. We have placed our action much further south and west, and one should not be surprised to find the natives looking more like Maoris than the subjects of King Kamehameha V. Whether the environment is Samoan or Tahitian, it's intentionally ambiguous. Gauguin's "La Orana Maria" provided a clue for costumes and sets. Indeed, someone like Gauguin may appear during the staged overture. As far as Polynesian music is concerned, someone last year dropped off in our local thrift store a considerable pile of old recordings of Hawaiian music, much of it composed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Hawaiian composers. It's all terribly academic, Eurocentric, and it all sounds like early Elgar, only more so. There was one fascinating precolonial chant, but it's not the kind of thing great Western operettas are based on. So, instead of complaining about Sullivan's score, we are thankful that so much of it is good in comparison to what was being produced. There are plenty of tunes you can't get out of your head and once the offending words embedded in them have been polished, abridged, or abolished, there's much that delights us and our cast.

Actually, as we have now completed large-scale productions of the entire canon as a directing team, we can think of several scores we would actually rate as inferior overall to Utopia. Our maestro, Ben Keaton, has set the "lost" lyric "From ship that lay in yonder bay."

We have also added a national anthem for the island, given Paramount a recitative, trimmed Lady Sophy down to manageable lengths; added a second verse to "Eagle high", cut the Act

Two trio "With wily brain" to almost nothing, and reworked the Act Two finale.

[Andrew Crowther: It seems odd to me to be so careful to trim away the dull stuff and then put back the second verse to "Eagle High", which has nothing to add to the first. Many people think this number a rather dull bit of stodge, and, while I don't agree, I think two verses of it would be a bit much.]

Quote: In addition , we've used the archetypes from THE HAPPY VALLEY to replace Blushington, Dramaleigh, and Goldbury with characters more accessible to our audiences. Again, characters and lyrics were changed, but not music or rhyme scheme. True, the opportunity for complicated choreography is missing, but the orchestration is particularly full and rich in places and provides an adequate amount of ritual spectacle.

As for the talky and obscure book, it too has been trimmed, transposed, truncated and totally replaced- in most instances to something resembling a pre-Nancy-McIntoshian state of recognizable chaos. There is certainly no need here to recount the opera's troubles, when John Wolfson has done such an admirable job for us. We've given more to Calynx, softened Sophy, and added a new comic slapstick scene for Scaphio and Phantis.

[Andrew Crowther: At which point I am seized with an attack of Pedant's Apoplexy.... I'd be the first to admit Utopia isn't perfect, but this seems excessive. For instance, why soften Lady Sophy? Gilbert has already softened her a good deal from his original conception, and the generally accepted version makes her much less of the Gilbertian dragon than many of her predecessors in the Savoy series. Soften her any more and she will disintegrate into a pile of mush. Personally, I like the "Katisha" characters, because of the sharpness of their tongues. But I'm complaining too much. Utopia (Un)limited is, after all, frankly advertised as a reinvention of the opera, so it isn't deceiving anyone. Such experiments shouldn't be discouraged.... Only be very careful not to forget that it is an experiment and a reinvention, not the original opera. When you try to second-guess people who knew their business as well as Gilbert and Sullivan did, don't assume that what you're doing is necessarily an improvement. But away with these doomy prophecies - I wish the production the best of luck.]

Quote: Needless to say, the entire work will be available for perusal following its world premiere as Utopia (UN)LIMITED. It is our hope to develop a version which will take its place in the repertoire of other G&S societies around the country.

7.4 - A solution?

Robert Jones: how about...

[Curtain rises on happy Utopians]

CHORUS: In lazy langour -

CALYNX: Good news! Great news! His Majesty's daughter's ship has been wrecked five miles off the coast, and the Flowers of Progress are all drowned!

MELENE: We are very well as we are.


Page created 18 January 1999