The Ohio Light Opera Utopia, Limited (2001)

King ParamountTed Christopher
ScaphioLucas Meachem
PhantisTony Thomann
TararaAnthony Maida
CalynxRichard Stevenson
Lord DramaleighDamian Savarino
Capt. FitzbattleaxeTim Oliver
Capt. CorcoranDavid Wannen
Mr. GoldburyBoyd Mackus
Sir Bailey BarreBen Smith
Mr. BlushingtonChristopher Swanson
Princess ZaraNancy Maria Balach
Princess NekayaAmy Van Loy
Princess KalybaJan Cornelius
Lady SophyTraci Pickerell
PhyllaLauren Pastorek
SalataTara Bowers Savarino
MeleneKarla Hughes

Ohio Light Opera
Conductor: J. Lynn Thompson

Newport Classic NPD 85659/2
Newport Classic NPD 85659/2

Ohio Light Opera presents a season of operetta in Wooster, Ohio, every summer. This was their second G&S production issued on CD, following up on Princess Ida in 2000. They are a semi-professional company, and one cannot expect from them the same polish that one would expect from D'Oyly Carte. Opinions are mixed, but judging from the reviews I've received, the recording is a worthwhile addition to the G&S catalogue. The set was reviewed extensively on Savoynet, of which a selection of comments is offered below.

Review by Ian Bond

Having ordered this only three days ago from Amazon, it was with mixed feelings that I returned home from work this evening to find the package waiting for me. After the poorly performed Arcadians, Chocolate Soldier, Eileen, and a dire Princess Ida, I was prepared for the worst.

I need not have worried — this is delightful. OK — so Americans seem unable to pronounce the word "Monarch" as we British would (the R is always too hard) or the words "predilections" or "command", but the rest of the dialogue (which has usually been the gripe with Ohio Light Opera in the past) is well delivered.

The production seems very relaxed at the beginning, but the pace picks up suddenly at the entrance of Nekaya and Kalyba, and their duet and Lady Sophy's song are taken at quite a lick which is quite an eye opener.

With the entrance of Zara, the word "yatch" from the first lifeguards also seems suspect, but this really is nit picking. Is Tim Oliver (Fitzbattleaxe) an Englishman? If not — he's fooled me — his accent is excellent!! Boyd Macus as Goldbury is also very convincing.

I have always rated Utopia 13th in my list of favourites in the past (with Pinafore as the 14th), but this recording could well change that. Anyone who knows me well will know that, as a performer/producer/director of 35 years (both amateur and professional), I am critical in the extreme, so this is an accolade.

The recording is advertised as being the "First Complete on CD" — fine, but the word "complete" could be challenged — the dialogue is that as cut by Gilbert during the initial production, not that presented on the first night and, although both verses of Paramount's entrance song are present, as is the complete "O gallant soldier," there are other cuts that are observed (the final refrain of "First you're born," the opening of the Act One Finale") — the box also times disc two at 71:16, whereas the cd player displays 69:15, a difference of two minutes — was something cut out?

It is a great pity that the disc change has to take place in the middle of the Act One Finale, but due to the length of the first act, this cannot be helped.

The accompanying booklet states that the first [U.S.] professional production took place off-Broadway on February 27th 1957, and yet the piece was first seen at the Broadway Theatre in New York on 26th March 1894 where it ran for 55 performances. One has to thank James Stuart (Founder of Ohio Light Opera) for his work with this and all the other G & S operas, but just because he played Fitzbattleaxe in 1957 and Paramount in subsequent productions, it does not justify his ignoring the original professional production of 1893. The box cover states that the opera was recorded live, and there are the sounds of stage movement to back this up, but absolutely no audience reaction until the end of Act Two — as I cannot imagine that an audience could have kept so quiet for the whole of the performance, I can only assume that the entire opera (with the exception of the Act Two Finale) was recorded in the empty theatre, and the finale recorded later at an actual performance. In this case the description "in live performance" is suspect. This is a great pity as I often find that a live performance is even more enjoyable than one recorded in a studio. If this production elicited the reaction it deserved, then a truly live recording would have been remarkable.

If this cast was standard for the 2000 season, I just hope and pray that they also recorded Mikado, and in particular Le Petit Duc (Lecocq). There is too little 19th century comic opera on disc, especially in English.

Review by Daniel Florip

On the whole, I have enjoyed this new Utopia, which is far more than I can say for the Ohio Princess Ida. Perhaps I'm just backwards. I think Ted Christopher does a good job with Paramount, and when he's singing (tell me if I'm completely off the wall here) even sounds like Ken Sandford in his younger years. Had the D'OC Utopia been recorded 10 years earlier, when Sandford was in his prime, it would have been better, but I think Christopher's is the better of the two recordings. Although a bit harsh, Sandford in the 1970's sounds like he was just sucking air in and out, rather than singing.

The biggest improvement IMHO on the D'OC Utopia is "Although Of Native Maids The Cream." It's done at the correct pace, and the twins are quite lovely. Also a delight is the Act II dialogue between the twins, Goldbury, and Dramaleigh.

I'll agree with [Savoynetter] Robert [Ray]'s critique of the over-emphasized English vowels. The "oh's" in the wise men's entrance are particularly annoying. But on the whole, the accents in this recording are much more tolerable than in last year's Princess Ida, of which the accents have on occasion made me vomit.

It's also quite a stretch to think that anyone could improve on John Reed's Scaphio and John Ayldon's Phantis.

One thing I found particularly annoying with this set is the splitting of the Act I finale over two CD's, but I imagine that this couldn't have been avoided, as each CD is near its technical limit for length.

All in all, I give it four stars out of five.

Review by Ray Walker

Having now heard the Ohio Utopia twice, although I take on board the previous reviewers' reservations I think an overview can sum it up quite simply—

  1. The orchestra and musicianship is as superior as the previous Princess Ida and Arcadians recordings.
  2. The excellent sound balance which we associate with the Ohio group and have come to expect with further recordings from them is there.
  3. They do pretty well at maintaining an English accent as they have done previously.
  4. There doesn't seem to be quite the same amount of energy and flair for delivery of dialogue which they have previously provided.

The cover is ghastly, ghastly! (A bit of clip art of a palm tree might be less off-putting. But that shouldn't affect our judgement of the hard work that has been put into generating the discs in the first place. )

For myself and members of Manchester G & S Society who have bought the set, we like it and much prefer the tempi of all of Act I and most of Act II numbers. On this recording the "O Make Way for the Wisemen duet" is restored to the catchy brisk pace we remember from Decca Utopia highlights LP (later lost in the later Decca LP/CD set). What MD's sometimes forget is that the identity of some of Sullivan's numbers is lost when played too slowly. Remember Sargent's Ruddigore and Princess Ida? In Act II the Ohio MD seems to lose something by taking the pace of the March scene, and 'With Wily Brain' too slowly, or is it my conditioning?

Review by Paul Ensell

This popped through the door yesterday, and (with one reservation and a few niggles) it's a joy to listen to. I paid more attention to musical numbers than lib, as I personally don't like lib [i.e., dialogue] on CD — I want to see the action that goes with the lib, so I'm not really commenting on the lib.

The music is crisp and clear — unlike some of the obvious glitches on the old D'Oyly Carte recording (3rd bar of "With fury deep we burn" springs to mind!) It's very interesting to hear the music as written in the vocal score — little differences mainly (ho ho's missing in "First you're born"), but still some cuts — the standard 4 bars removed from Act 1 finale intro. The logic of some of this escapes me. I think the "ho ho" section is in the orchestra parts, and the repeated 4 bars aren't — but I may be wrong, it's a few years since I saw the D'Oyly Carte hire parts.

It's very interesting to hear "Ah gallant soldier" in its entirety — I don't know that it would all be necessary on stage, but it's nice to hear what the alternative is!

With one notable exception the tempi are excellent, fast, but not too fast, and what a joy to hear Lady Sophy's first song sound interesting, the old recording has a lot to answer for in this song's popularity.

The voices and accents are all excellent. Initially I wasn't sure about Tarara, but his voice grew as a part of the characterisation as I listened. There are the odd times when it's obvious that the cast are trying to sound English and go a bit far, more often than not as a whole chorus — possibly this would sound better live in an auditorium, so that you are listening at a distance, rather than the obviously closer microphones used to record this. The only time pronunciation jarred was "predilections" (Scaphio in "It's understood all round"). I don't know what the singer thinks the word is, but what he sings ain't English!

I was a bit worried that Lady Sophy's song in Act 2 had the ending of the vocal line as written in the Vocal score (which was good), and then (in a recording that had so far followed the VS almost exactly) used a different play out to what was written — why?

My only big (read huge, enormous, massive) gripe is "Eagle High" which is sung beautifully — AT HALF SPEED. This is far more "frightened fawn" than soaring eagle, and distinctly lacking in Glory! This is supposed to be a celebratory number not a dirge! [rant over]

With this one exception this will be my Utopia of choice when I reach for a recording. Long overdue, and well done — now we need a decent Grand Duke and Sorcerer please.

Review by Robert Ray

Give me the DC recording any day!!!

With great relish, I ordered and received the Ohio Light Opera Company recording of Utopia, Limited, after the warmth it received on this net. While I liked their Princess Ida, I can't warm to this. In every way, IMHO, I feel it inferior to the D'Oyly Carte 1975 recording (which it has been fashionable to knock, I notice, on this net over the past months). The cover is out of focus and hideous. The only addition is the dialogue, which has to be WSG at his most verbose. Why use five lines when fifty would do? And while they try hard for the right accent, they are not successful. (They exaggerate the long and rounded o's, however the a's are still shortened). I'm sorry, but I just can't get used to, or enjoy, G&S with an American accent. My lack, I know. (Similarly, I couldn't bear to hear "Oklahoma!" sung with a British accent).

All in all, hang on to your D'Oyly Carte recording. How could you better Sandford, Reed and especially Field, who is just adorable as Zara?

Issue History
2001 Newport Classic CD NPD 85659/2