KING Gama and his daughter Princess Ida make a fine pair - she hates men, but he hates everybody! The Princess (sung by Irish soprano Emma Walsh) has established a women's college called Castle Adamant. Ida was betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion, son of King Hildebrand. Hilarion (young lyric tenor Laurie Slavin) sets out to impregnate Castle Adamant with his friends Florian (baritone Matthew Kellet) and Cyril (tenor Nick Sales) in order to claim Ida as his Bride.

W.S Gilbert's satirical take on feminism and women's education in conservative Victorian England represented a departure from his usual world of topsy turvy. The serious theme provided composer Sir Arthur Sullivan with the opportunity to write in a style that is much closer to grand opera.

Cav Vivian Coates' ravishing mediaeval period production, strikingly choreographed by Mary Macdonaugh, unleashed a torrent of applause as the curtain opened on each of the three acts. Coates creates mood and atmosphere as subtly as he brings the comedy and burlesque to the surface. Natalie Montakhab as Lady Psyche amusingly delivers her song, A Lady Fair of Lineage High, with the aid of a flip chart which ridicules the Darwinian Evolution of ape to man "in clean collars and a brand new suit". Hilarion, Florian and Cyril don women's academic robes in their number, I am a Maiden Cold and Stately. The trio's antics aroused much merriment in the well- filled Royal Hall. Nick Sales performance of Cyril's boisterous 'tipsy song' "Would you know the kind of Maid?" was gloriously over the top.

I could hear every elongated vowel and consonant of Gaynor Keeble's imperious Duchess of Plaza Toro- like Lady Blanche. Clarity of projection could likewise be applied to Donald Maxwell's sturdy King Hildebrand if not always to Richard Suart's King Gama. Some words of the misanthropic Gama's famous Patter song, If You Give Me Your Attention, were unfortunately smudged. The Chorus was unfailingly crisp and impeccably balanced with the resplendent Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Orchestra, led by Sally Robinson and zealously conducted by Aidan Faughey.

The many musical highlights in the National Gilbert & Sullivan Company's production of this most tuneful of Savoy Operas must include Arac's This Helmet, I Suppose - sung with authentic Handelian ornamentation by the young bass James Cleverton. But my palm goes to Emma Walsh for scaling the Empyrean Heights with Princess Ida's lovely songs - Minerva! Oh, hear me! and her achingly despairing I Built upon a Rock.

The 24th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival continues at Harrogate's Royal Hall until Sunday, August 20.

by Geoffrey Mogridge