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a present to not be missed – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, Utopia, Restricted: Nationwide Gilbert & Sullivan Firm and Orchestra / John Andrews (conductor). Opera Home, Buxton, 5.8.2022. (RJW)

King Paramount (Ben McAteer) with Mr Goldbury (Paul Featherstone) © Charles Smith

Director – Jeff Clarke
Choreographer – Jenny Arnold
Scenic designer – Elroy Ashmore
Lighting – Matt Cater
Costumes – Wanda D’Onofrio, Janet McGeown, Sue Mackrell, Nic Hamblin

King Paramount – Ben McAteer
Scaphio – Robert Gildon
Phantis – Giles Davies
Calynx – Cairán Walker
Lord Dramaleigh – Tim Walton
Captain Fitzbattleaxe – Anthony Flaum
Captain Corcoran – Stephen Godward
Mr Goldbury – Paul Featherstone
Sir Bailey Barre – Cameron Mitchell
Mr Blushington – Aiden Edwards
Princess Zara – Monica McGhee
Princess Nekaya – Georgina Stalbow
Princess Kalyba – Meriel Cunningham
Girl Sophy – Katharine Taylor-Jones
Phylla ­– Phoebe Smith
Melene – Rachel Speirs
Salata – Juliet Montgomery

The spotlight of this yr’s Gilbert & Sullivan Competition at Buxton (and at Harrogate) is undoubtedly the uncommon presentation of Utopia, Restricted. This lesser identified of the G&S canon was the thirteenth of their collaboration. When supplied in a lavish manufacturing by a extremely competent director, as it’s right here, it’s a present to not be missed.

The Nationwide Gilbert & Sullivan Firm determined to interact Jeff Clarke of the well-known Opera de la Luna Firm to mount this unique manufacturing for a handful of performances, with the instruction ‘Don’t stint your self; do it properly’ (as Pooh Bah would have mentioned). The danger paid off handsomely as a result of everybody leaving the theatre raved over this musical triumph and the standard of staging.

The music was in secure palms with Sally Fletcher and her magnificent Competition Orchestra of lengthy standing. John Andrews performed to perfection and the solid responded with power and dedication.

Gilbert & Sullivan Competition’s Utopia, Restricted © Charles Smith

The characters have been properly rehearsed and fitted their components admirably. Ben McAteer was a robust, despotic king (a component he performed final yr in Scottish Opera’s semi-staged manufacturing). I discovered that the 2 Sensible Males got here throughout higher right here than in different productions with their extra significant studying of Gilbert’s e book to assist a greater understanding of the plot. A wonderful overture (just lately composed by John Owen Edwards) was added since none was ever written by Sullivan. The singing was sturdy all through and it might be unfair to single out principals for his or her glorious contribution.

I preferred the enjoyable Jeff Clarke poked on the elegant Drawing Room ceremony by having a mischievous King’s daughter tease the Courtroom debutants by halting their retreating robe trains after presentation to the King, firstly with a foot and later with a heavy plant pot placed on the prepare. When the ‘respectable’ English advisers finally vacate the Island their departure is convincingly proven by servants seen lugging heavy travelling trunks throughout the stage, the final of which has its backside break to permit stolen treasures to spill out, ‘… as may occur in England’. There have been many pretty touches like this to savour so it might be a pity for any G&S lover to overlook out on this comedian opera.

The spectacular and diversified Utopian costumes suited the characters, the ladies’s robes and wigs trying notably enticing when contrasted with genuine Horseguards uniforms and helmets. A pleasant contact was the sporting of attribute Moroccan ‘Aladdin’ footwear with curled-up toes. Jeff Clarke instructed me that he remembered Percy Anderson’s gorgeous costume designs for the 1893 manufacturing and so labored exhausting to copy their high quality right here.

A phrase of point out ought to be made concerning the excellence of the visible facets of manufacturing. For the D’Oyly Carte’s remaining staging of Utopia, Restricted of their 1975 Centenary season, their designer Peter Rice selected one set to characterize each acts and this labored properly; the identical is completed right here. Outstanding is the excellence of Matt Cater’s lighting to remodel the setting for every act in order that they appear so completely different. Additionally, his sensitivity in precisely selecting up music cues for temper adjustments is way appreciated. The Act I curtain rose on Elroy Ashmore’s equatorial palace lounge, with Lloyd Loom chairs round tables and the house interrupted by convincingly-tropical slender palm timber splashed by streams of ‘sizzling’ daylight. The impact rightly introduced applause earlier than the refrain began singing. Regardless of utilizing the identical set, Act II regarded vastly completely different, the place a distinct oriental attraction was given by clusters of ornate hanging lanterns set towards a starlit black night time sky and cross-lit by moonlight to remodel the palm timber. How good it was to see scenic excellence complementing the music, as full units are hardly ever supplied these days due to expense. When Utopia was first staged the decor and costumes amounted to a rare £7,200 to supply spectacular units — an terrible lot of cash to spend in 1893.

This was a memorable efficiency that the Worldwide Gilbert & Sullivan Competition ought to be congratulated for. Catch it in the event you can at Harrogate on 14 and 20 August.

Raymond J Walker



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