“Oh, maiden, rich in Girton lore that wisdom which, we prized before we do confess is nothingness, and rather less, perhaps, than more. On each of us thy learning shed. On calculus may we be fed. And teach us, please, to speak with ease, all languages, alive and dead!”

—Women’s Chorus
Utopia, Limited
The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s 45th Aniversary Production of

Utopia, Limited or The Flowers of Progress

March 1 to 24, 2024

Photo Gallery

Utopia, Limited Program

Utopia, Limited 2024 Cast


Stage Director: Maureen Kane Berg
Music Director: Dr. Randal A. Buikema

Director’s Notes

We aim in this production to communicate the freshness and vitality of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lesser-known operas.  Utopia, Limited their next-to-last collaboration, received positive reviews at its premier in 1893: George Bernard Shaw reported that he “enjoyed the score of Utopia more than that of any of the previous Savoy operas.”  But it soon fell into obscurity; the D’Oyly Carte Company did not revive it until 1975.

That was a pity, because Utopia, Limited has much to offer — including a lot of beautiful music.  Beyond that, its outlook is notably modern.  Princess Zara returns to Utopia with a Cambridge degree and a determination to apply English reforms to Utopia’s institutions, which have been corrupted by crony capitalists. (Sound relevant?)  Among Gilbert’s many resourceful heroines, Zara is distinctively modern because her main struggle is for public, not private, goals: to improve her nation, not simply to marry her beloved (she and Captain Fitzbattleaxe are happy from start to finish).  The English reformers, the “Flowers of Progress,” provide multiple targets for Gilbert’s satire.  Of course, their reforms go awry — partly because the Utopians actually do reform better than the English do!

Moreover, Utopia, Limited is wacky in ways arguably beyond even the topsy-turvy plots of previous shows.  It demonstrates why Gilbert and Sullivan are antecedents not only of American musical theater but of Monty Python’s craziness.  We’ve tried to reinforce this with a collection of visual shenanigans from corrupt judges wearing gangster attire to beach balls flying over the head of Utopia’s supposedly “despotic” king.

One reason why Utopia, Limited fell into disuse, it seems, is that its original conception was too extravagant.  An elaborate throne-room procession scene swelled the production costs.  The original libretto was long-winded, mainly because Gilbert and Sullivan were no longer working so closely to edit and sharpen each other’s contributions.  Their partnership had ended in 1890 over the so-called “Carpet Quarrel” (a fight about the costs of renovating the Savoy Theater); they patched things up to write Utopia, Limited but never fully resumed their previous close (if often tense) collaboration.

The GSVLOC has revised Utopia, Limited to pare away unnecessary scenes and dialogue and allow the satire to cut through fully.  We’ve also made Utopia’s people descendants of English settlers who now wish to reconnect with their ancestral homeland.  Moreover, we have set this production in the early 1960s — partly for visual features like “Mad Men” fashions and Kodak cameras, partly because that period saw swift social change in England.  So, when Lady Sophy trains Utopia’s two younger princesses to be demure “English ladies,” she is woefully behind the times.  Goldbury’s lyric “Whatever you are, be that” is a revelation to the Princesses, and still-relevant advice to us all.

Maureen Kane Berg

Tessa Dahlgren, who joined the GSVLOC for the first time with our 2024 production of Utopia, Limited, wrote the following poem about her experience with the company and the production.

An Ode to GSVLOC Camaraderie, Community, and Caretaking

By Tessa Dahlgren

Where does utopia live? where does it come from? how do I get there?

I think I’ve seen it, in their hands:
Pass the hairspray, the prop, the bobby pin
Fasten the clasp on the back of her dress
Fix his husband’s collar (subtly played, no audience saw)
Wield a safety pin, save the day
Open their doors to us
Open their ovens, carry the food, pour the laughter.

I think I’ve heard it, in their voices:
“Here, you can use mine.”
“Want help with your zipper?”
“I brought cookies!”
“Psst, your fly is down.”
“Yeah! You enter here, with me. You’ve got this!”
“We missed you!”

It all says, it all shows:
I’m so glad you’re here

It all points to, it all sings:
utopia is wherever we make it.


Josh Zapata-Palmer as Captain Fitzbattleaxe, Mary Kettlewell as Princess Zara

Josh Zapata-Palmer as Captain Fitzbattleaxe, Mary Kettlewell as Princess Zara


Waldyn Benbenek as King Nigel Paramount, Lara Trujillo as Lady Sophy

Waldyn Benbenek as King Nigel Paramount, Lara Trujillo as Lady Sophy


Tom Berg as Henry Phantis, Scott Benson as Thomas Tarara, Joe Andrews as Colin Scaphio

Tom Berg as Colin Scaphio, Scott Benson as Thomas Tarara, Joe Andrews as Henry Phantis


Mallory Rabehl as Princess Natasha, Ella Rose Katzenberger as Princess Katherine

Mallory Rabehl as Princess Natasha, Ella Rose Katzenberger as Princess Katherine

Utopia, Limited Review

         Play Off the Page, by Mary Aalgaard

Two excellent internet resources for information about Utopia, Limited:

Wikipedia – Utopia, Limited

The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive – Utopia, Limited

Utopia, Limited 2024 Show Poster

Show Poster

Poster design by Tom McGregor and Mary Olson
Utopia, Limited 2024 Company Photo

Company Photo

Photography by Bethany Jackson, Twin Cities Headshots

“Oh! the hours are gold, and the joys untold, when my eyes behold my beloved Princess; and the years will seem but a brief daydream, in the joy extreme of our happiness!”

—Princess Zara and Captain Fitzbattleaxe
Utopia, Limited