RUDDIGORE followed The Mikado in the G&S canon and suffered unfairly from comparison with its predecessor’s brilliance.

York Opera’s production, of their usual exceptionally high standard, proves that this opera’s comparative neglect since then has been quite unfair.

To be both the romantic hero and the comic baritone requires a remarkably gifted actor and singer. The talented Ian Thomson-Smith convincingly managed the transition from shy bachelor to wicked baronet between acts.

His second act solo was happily present and, as in Opera North’s production in January, included an extra verse about MPs’ expenses. Emma Tatnall’s Rose had the awkward innocence and thoughtlessness of a young Joyce Grenfell character.

There was perfect clarity of diction from the cast, even if the dynamic occasionally dropped – so that we had lean forward just a little to hear the impeccably pat- patter of the Matter song.

Hamish Brown’s engaging voice commanded our attention and the stage from “I shipp’d, d’ye see” on, although he lost his skirmish with a tough West Country accent. His hornpipe had an elegant, almost stately charm; in fact, the choreography and stage movement was exceptionally well handled throughout – no doubt thanks to assistant director Hilary Minford.

The second act had a hint of Don Giovanni at the start, with Ian Small’s Old Adam as wicked henchman Leporello. Clive Goodhead’s powerful presence as he came out from the portrait and down the steps, like the Commendatore, reinforced this impression.

The dark second half of Ruddigore is rich in magnificent music: Goodhead’s powerful When The Night Wind Howls was Schubertian, genuinely moving and hair-raising.

John Soper’s gorgeous pantomime villain in the first act became a glumly funny moralist in the second, dressed like a York ghost trail guide. With Rebecca Smith’s Mad Margaret trying to contain her loopiness like somebody with a cat in a hat-box – “I once was a very abandoned person” – was a comic delight. Amanda Shackleton’s game old bird defending herself with a hoe was another treat.

Tracy Bowen, Jennifer Garbutt and the Bridesmaids moved as one and were great deadpan fun.

Under the assured direction of the excellent Margaret Griffiths the generously sized orchestra sparkled from the overture onwards.

Pauline Marshall’s production was a triumph for her and for all concerned, helped by the fact that the cast seemed to enjoy it almost as much as the audience did.

(Look out for the special guest appearance.) * Ruddigore – York Opera, York Theatre Royal, tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, 7.30pm. Tickets: 01904 623568.

Review by Charles Hunt