THE 26th Harrogate International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival burst open like a bottle of vintage champagne with this sparkling new production of the enduring partnership’s sunniest creation.

Gilbert’s world of topsy turvy is unsurpassed in The Gondoliers, while Sullivan’s exquisitely crafted musical score is brimful of beguiling solos, rapturous duets and ingeniously woven ensembles. And that’s just the first 25 minutes which flows, uninterrupted by spoken dialogue, until the mock-ceremonial entrance of the genteel but poverty stricken Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, their daughter Casilda, and “suite” - Luiz, the Duke’s attendant. Natalie Montakhab as Casilda haughtily dismisses Luiz, sung by David JW Woods, as “a man of plebeian presumptions”. It is a ploy to conceal that the pair are deeply in love. When the matchless Simon Butteriss as the Duke and Gaynor Keeble as his formidable Duchess announce that Casilda was betrothed by proxy to the infant son of the fabulously wealthy King of Barataria, Casilda and Luiz are crestfallen. But exactly who is the now twenty-something Prince? Perhaps he is one of the Gondolier brothers Marco and Guiseppe Palmieri, engagingly portrayed by Jack Roberts and Matthew Kellett. Incisive and velvety baritone Stephen Page as Don Alhambra, the deceptively amiable Grand Inquisitor, explains how he stole the infant Prince and brought him to Venice.

John Savournin’s energetically choreographed production updates the action to a sun drenched Venice lagoon circa 1950s and for act 2, the mythical land of Barataria becomes a traditional English seaside resort of that era. This is, of course, one of the endearing eccentricities of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. Whatever the time or place, everyone behaves with impeccable middle class Englishness.

Musical Director Timothy Burke at the helm of the vibrant young Chorus and the National Festival Orchestra propels and shapes the entire performance. Marco’s charming song Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes virtually brings down the house and the infectious rhythmic energy of Dance a Cachucha will gladden the heart.

The Gondoliers is repeated on Sunday, August 18 and John Savournin’s own company, Charles Court Opera, will present HMS Pinafore and Ruddigore on Friday, August 16.

Geoffrey Mogridge