BUXTON'S loss has been Harrogate's gain. The annual G & S orgy which began in Buxton in 1994 shifted to Harrogate three years ago. It has become an international magnet for lovers of the Savoy operas.

The National Company provides the professional backbone to the festival, while a variety of amateur companies, British and foreign, vie for honours in the international and university competitions. Talks, demonstrations and fringe activities fill out the festival, which began on August 3 and ends next Sunday.

The Sorcerer, though not one of the core works in the G & S canon, is fascinating as the first full-length opera on which Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated fully. It also originated the now-familiar template for the Savoys: all the main character-types along with patter song, madrigal, double chorus, tenor-soprano love duet, soprano showpiece and so on. It opened in 1877, though given here in the revised version of 1884.

Its best-known character is the title role, John Wellington Wells, whose potion causes a string of unsuitable liaisons in the village of Ploverleigh. In Donald Maxwell's new production, he was given with immense relish by Richard Gauntlett as an East End spiv, in natty wide-check trews, rust velvet jacket and matching bowler.

Nicholas Sales brought an ardent tenor to Alexis, who was well matched by Jane Harrington's wilful Aline. Martin Lamb was a splendid Sir Marmaduke, getting off with Fiona Mackay's graceful Lady Sangazure. Bruce Graham's wayward local vicar injected several comic touches. James Hendry conducted with near-manic enthusiasm but kept his orchestra under a tight rein.

Gauntlett was again central to the action as the tragic Jack Point in The Yeomen, though this time he tended to gabble where a more measured clarity was needed. Brendan Collins's fine baritone Sir Richard was a stand-out. Lamb returned as Sergeant Meryll, looking a dead-ringer for Henry VIII, and was well-partnered by Pauline Birchall's Dame Carruthers.

Sales played Colonel Fairfax and was especially sympathetic in his ballad. Fiona Mackay was a pert Phoebe, and Jane Harrington's attractive Elsie milked the pathos in the final scene excellently. Graham was a lively head jailer. The quality of the youthful chorus was underlined by their solo contributions.

John Savournin's production flowed smoothly and Damian Czarnecki's choreography was equally disciplined. David Steadman's 26-piece orchestra recovered well from a scrappy overture. It was good to find that the National Company is keeping the G & S flame burning so brightly. All four of its new productions will be on show this coming week-end. Highly recommended.