(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a life-long performer/stage director of Gilbert and Sullivan, I have to admit that UTOPIA has always ranked very low on my list of favourites - this recording has, however, gone a long way to change that view.For a native Englishman, the Ohio Light Opera recordings are occasionally marred by strong American accents, mainly in the dialogue scenes. This was not so apparent in BAYADERE, or CHOCOLATE SOLDIER, or indeed in EILEEN where many of the cast were attempting an Irish accent, but in THE ARCADIANS and (most particularly) PRINCESS IDA, this does become a problem that detracts from otherwise excellent performances.All credit to Ohio Light Opera then in this superb release for having addressed this problem so well. With the exception of the word "monarch" which seems to defeat everyone (the R is invariably too harsh), and the word "yatch", there is nothing to betray this as being an "American" company.The opera is beautifully sung, the dialogue intelligently spoken (something one was unable to report in reference to IDA), and the orchestra under J Lynn Thompson a pure delight.The pace of the opera is maintained throughout - something that is often found to be very difficult with this work and despite the opening of several traditional cuts, the performance lasts for just 2 hours and 20 minuetes.This is a Gilbert and Sullivan recording that can be recommended unreservedly."
A political lesson for our own day
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 05/14/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is little question that the penultimate Gilbert & Sullivan opus, is something of a disappointment, especially after the masterpiece "The Gondoliers." But we Savoyards know that "Utopia" followed the shameful "carpet quarrel" in which Gilbert sued Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte in open court; and that things never could be the same afterwards. And so when one hears "Utopia," one gets the feeling that what is good is a repetition of the older works and what is new is suffers by comparison. Several tunes do linger in the memory after a single hearing, most of them refrains: those to "First you're born" (Gilbert's version of the Ages of Man), " "Let all your doubts take wing," "Words of love," and the marvelous parody of the Christy Minstrels. And of course, we have the reprise of Capt. Corcoran's "What never?" refrain from "Pinafore." But even Sullivan was hard pressed to provide memorable music when Gilbert insisted on having Princess Zara introduce each of the Flowers of Progress in turn; and the silly words to "Eagle high" did not inspire him to another "Hail Poetry" (from "Pirates"). (For trivia experts, the last number in the work was composed by Sullivan first and then the words were supplied by Gilbert--a unique occurrence in their collaborations.) The plot, in brief, is how a group of English "experts" are called onto a South Sea island to remodel the land according to (what they claim) English standards, even to the extent of turning each citizen into a Limited Liability Company (or in our lingo, a corporation). This Utopian scheme works only too well--and the Gilbertian twist at the end is truly hilarious. In deciding to put down the rapier and take up the shotgun, Gilbert let his dramatic sense go astray, for once. For example, the love interest between tenor and soprano have no effect on the plot whatsoever, nor the two daughters of the King. Et cetera. But his remarks on Government by Party are as true today as they were then; and in general, the satire of this work manages to hit most of the many targets the author set up. Still this is Gilbert & Sullivan, and "Utopia" still emerges better than most other musicals composed around that time. It is also the best effort to date by the Ohio Light Opera, whose "Princess Ida," "The Chocolate Soldier," "Veronique," "One Night in Venice," "The Arcadians," and "Eileen" have already appeared on Newport Classic label. In the past, I have never been completely satisfied with this group's delivery of the dialogue. However, I find little to fault here, except for two of the men who still have that annoying "comic opera" tone of voice that is supposed to be funny and is only mannered. For the most part, the dialogue (and in G&S, this is important) is as well delivered as the songs are sung. Among the many leads, we have Ted Christopher (King Paramount), Nancy Maria Balach (Zara), Tim Oliver (Fitzbattleaxe), and Traci Pickerell (Lady Sophie). Conductor J. Lynn Thompson leads his forces with a good feeling for the work, although I do miss the tambourine crashes heard on the D'Oyly Carte version.You can program out the dialogue, but it follows very hard upon and often with the last note of music, which was, I think, to discourage applause from a present but very quiet audience. The only competitive sets on Pearl and London do not contain the dialogue and are respectively out of print and hard to find. Even without comparisons, this Newport Classic set stands very well on its own merits."
Utopia Limited is an Unlimited Success
F. Behrens | 01/16/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Congratulations to the wonderful Ohio Light Opera troupe, which scores again with this live recorded performance of perhaps the
least-known of the G&S canon.
The young-but-enthusiastic and sharp conductor make the creaky
book as intelligible and fun as possible to a 21st Century, non-British audience and deliver the music beautifully. I also enjoyed their Princess Ida, and with the dearth of new recording of complete opera (much less new operetta), this company is just great. Thanks. long may you wave. A hoot."