Hello! (enthusiastic wave) I know that I have said repeatedly that I
was not going to use either Thespis or Utopia, Limited, and when I
said it, I meant it 100%. The only problem with this is that I am a
completist, and not having all of something makes me jittery.With
that in mind, I have created a very brief feature that will set my
completist tendencies to rest, and that will hopefully not be too
very boring for you.
Thank you for your kind indulgence, dear readers, and we should
return to our regularly scheduled programming next week.
OLD ADAM: Mama?
OLD ADAM: Why have you never performed in Thespis?
RUTH: Because it’s lost. And even if it wasn’t lost, it’s pretty bad.
OLD ADAM: But Mama, it is not lost. I have seen small portions
of the cell phone song on -- on -- I believe it is called “YouTube.”*
RUTH: Cell phones are a relatively new invention, sweetie. Gilbert
and Sullivan never wrote a song asking people to please remember
to turn them off. Some companies just make a song up because it’s
more interesting than an announcement.
*At least one video like this actually exists.
OLD ADAM: Yet the point remains that these songs were performed before
a performance of Thespis.
RUTH: Well, there is a copy of the libretto floating around, but the music is
lost. Some people have rescored it using music from other shows --
especially The Pirates of Penzance -- and some people have even written
new music for it in the style of Sullivan. But it was a flop in its own time,
and it doesn’t do too well now.
OLD ADAM: It was cancelled after the first week?
RUTH: No, they got sixty-three performances out of it. But it was never
revived during Gilbert’s lifetime.
Uncredited picture accompanying Terri Bryce Reeves, “Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera
‘Thespis’ opens Feb. 4 in Tarpon Springs,” Tampa Bay Times, 2 February 2012. Taken
thespis-opens-feb-4-in-tarpon-springs/1213637; accessed 6 July 2013.
OLD ADAM: Nor during Sullivan’s?
RUTH: His either. Gilbert lived longer anyway. And modern
performances have butchered that character’s names, probably.
Like the female lead, (pronounces carefully) Ni-KAY-mis. Or the
male lead, (pronounces carefully) Spar-KEI-on.
OLD ADAM (repeats quietly): Ni-KAY-mis and Spar-KEI-on.
(laughs) Ha! I see the joke! Nicemis looks as though it ought to be
pronounced “Nice Miss” and Sparkeion looks as though it ought to
be pronounced “Sparky One.” That is very clever, Mama, very
*Arthur Robinson, “A Greek Remark,” Precious Nonsense, the newsletter of
the Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Issue 42 (May 1995); reposted on
http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/thespis/html/greek.html; accessed 6 July 2013.
RUTH: How do you even know ancient Greek pronunciation? You’re eleven!
OLD ADAM: How do you not know it, Mama? Is it not part of a civilized
person’s upbringing? But if the whole operetta is as clever as the names of the
characters, it must be quite clever indeed.
RUTH: It isn’t. Basically, the gods are old and decide to take a vacation, and
a troop of actors fill in for them. Except they don’t do a good job, and the
gods take over again. It’s very tedious and very dated, and probably the
funniest thing about it is that the actor assigned to be the god of wine is a
recovering alcoholic and fills all grapes everywhere with ginger beer.
This illustration does not show what Ruth and Old Adam are talking about. D.H. Friston,
detail of “The Pantomines” showing a scene from Thespis, The Illustrated London News
(January 6, 1872). Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thespis_(opera); accessed 6
OLD ADAM: (frowns) But Mama, the logistics of how that would
work are quite problematical, for wine is not liquid when it is in
grapes. Indeed, even when grapes are crushed, they do not produce
wine directly. Would these grapes be like water balloons filled
with ginger beer, or -- ?
OLD ADAM: And it is all of a piece with that?
OLD ADAM (philosophically): Just as well, then, I suppose.
OLD ADAM: Mama, why have you never told us Utopia, Limited at a
RUTH: (to herself) Ho boy. (aloud) Well, partly because the songs
aren’t very hummable, and the plot is rather weak. Gilbert added in a
couple of pointless scenes with the soprano and the tenor in an attempt
to make it more appealing, which kind of backfired on him. But the
main reason is that it’s bigoted as all get-out.
OLD ADAM: Forgive me, Mama, but were not most Victorian works
bigoted to one degree or another?
RUTH: I thought you were a Victorian in miniature!
Strobridge & Co. Lith., “D’Oyle Carte’s Opera Co. in Utopia, limited Gilbert &
Sullivan’s new opera,” (Cincinnati: Strobridge Lith. Co., c. 1894); cleaned up and
retouched to remove division into 32 square by Adam Cuerden (2010), taken from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Utopia_Limited_Poster.jpg; accessed 6 July 2013.
OLD ADAM: Indeed, their aesthetic and manners and use of
language are all much to be admired. However, I find them to have
been excessively narrow-minded when it came to other cultures, to
people like Uncle Ty and Uncle Matt, or to female equality. The
concept of “the angel in the house” was likely the largest setback
of female empowerment in hundreds of years.
RUTH (suspiciously): Are you sure you’re only eleven?
OLD ADAM: So you have told me, and I see no reason to doubt
your word. But what makes Utopia, Limited worse than The
Mikado? After all, Japanese people do not act like that, nor do they
have people boiled alive at the drop of a hat.
RUTH: Okay, see, The Mikado was more a parody of contemporary
British society than anything else. And Gilbert actually did research the
costumes and hire actual Japanese people to demonstrate how to use
fans properly and things like that. And Sullivan actually used a
Japanese song that was popular at the time for the Mikado’s entrance --
the one that goes “Miya-sama, miya-sama”? Puccini used the same
melody in Madama Butterfly, for that authentic Japanese touch.*
Uncredited and undated picture labeled “Rutland Barrington, the original Pooh-
Bah,” taken from http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/mikado/webopera/mk104.html;
accessed 6 July 2013.
RUTH: But if you look at the pictures from Utopia, Limited, you can
see that Gilbert didn’t research the costumes at all. It’s too warm to
wear that many clothes in the south Pacific, for a start, and southern
Pacific fashions have never been Greco-Roman in style. Okay, so
Victorians probably wouldn’t have gone for a more accurate look, but
it’s not even a similar aesthetic. Plus, for some reason, Gilbert
shoehorned in other characters from more popular shows, like Captain
Corcoran from HMS Pinafore. And then there’s the song written in the
style of a song from a minstrel show, which may have been okay in
1893, but which is definitely not okay now, even if it’s the British
characters singing it.
Uncredited picture labeled “Costume for King Paramount designed by Percy
Anderson, 1893.” Taken from
http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/utopia/html/index.html; accessed 6 July 2013
RUTH: And then there’s the plot. King Paramount become
completely Anglicized for some reason, so he hires a British
governess to educate his daughters and important British people to
come and teach him how to make his country more like Britain.
And once all the locals have learned to talk, dress, act, and live just
like British folks, there’s still a big problem: the weather is so nice,
that it’s actually better than Britain. Well, that’s simply Not Done,
so the advisors institute a broken political system, meaning that the
country isn’t quite as good as Britain after all. Then the King
marries the British governess and his daughters all marry British
army officers, and everyone lives happily ever after because they
are now basically British. Except for the weather.
OLD ADAM: Ah, I see. (long, thoughtful pause)
OLD ADAM: Mama, is Britain a real place?
RUTH: No, sweetie. It’s a mythological country based on
And with that, my completist soul is satisfied! Particularly sharp-
eyed and/or knowledgeable readers may have noticed that there are
still two Gilbert & Sullivan operettas unaccounted for, to which I
can only say: Hang in there -- they are coming.
Until next time, Happy Simming!