York Opera in The Gondoliers; Theatre Royal, York

Further performances nightly (7.30pm) till Friday, plus Saturday matinee (4pm) yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

THERE’S no jollier way to start into autumn than with a burst of Gilbert & Sullivan. And York Opera are the people to do it: bags of energy, brimming with assurance and high in morale.

Perhaps their most under-sung hero is conductor Alasdair Jamieson, here celebrating his 30th opera with the company, a tremendous achievement. Jamieson always inspires confidence. He picks musicians he knows he can rely on and they invariably repay his trust, with the ubiquitous Claire Jowett as leader. The orchestral underlay here is superb, brightly coloured when necessary but tactfully restrained where lighter voices are involved.

Pauline Marshall’s cheery production is based on a traditional, unitary set by John Soper, with three broad arches backing a central dais. At first you suspect a lack of water. But behind the arches is a jetty, where a gondola later glides into view, a clever touch. The central arch easily accommodates a throne in the court of Barataria.

Things got off to an uneven start on Tuesday, when several soloists from within the chorus sang slightly sharp, a sure sign of first-night nerves. Things will undoubtedly settle down. Musical order was restored, along with a strong dose of comedy, with the arrival of the Duke of Plaza-Toro and his entourage.

John Soper (yes, the designer) revels in the duke’s pomposity – think John Bercow in fancy dress – with long-drawn vowels to match. His instructions on courtly etiquette to the gondoliers are hilarious. He takes himself seriously enough to have become a personal dot-com. Rebecca Smith is wonderfully haughty as his Duchess and Alexandra Mather is forthrightly cussed as Casilda their daughter.

The gondolier brothers sport extremely promising voices. Alex Davison brings a flexible, accurate tenor to Marco, while Ben Noble projects a firm baritone as Giuseppe, his Geordie tones adding authenticity. Their peasant ladies are equally lively: Alice Dix brings a bright soprano to Gianetta, with Annabel van Griethuysen’s mezzo making a sunny Tessa. They are a nicely blended quartet.

I enjoyed Mark Simmonds’s mildly sinister Don Alhambra, manipulating his words well (and bringing in Brexit), and Michael Foster makes a properly quizzical Luiz, the ultimate prize-winner. Jane Woolgar’s choreography was at its best in ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’; elsewhere it verged on woolly. But the chorus works hard and radiates plenty of bonhomie in Maggie Soper’s appealing costumes. A jolly evening.

Martin Dreyer