Given the enchanting production Aidan Lang has created for the Buxton Festival, stylishly conducted by Andrew Greenwood, it is a mystery why The Merry Wives of Windsor is so rarely performed in Britain.
Ashley Martin Davis's russet-hued set doubles as interior and leafy exterior, and the period costumes look as right as Shakespeare's dialogue sounds.
The comedy, treated simply and with a light hand, inspires colourful performances that are sharp, droll and uniformly well-sung (in English). Playfully eccentric rather than beerily vulgar, James Rutherford's youthful Falstaff is the perfect cushion for Helen Williams and Yvonne Howard's Mistresses Ford and Page.
Mozart was 15 when he wrote Ascanio in Alba. Though no-one could pretend it is much more than a rudimentary though extremely competent piece of work, everyone loved it in its day for its fluffy allegory of arranged marriage in scenes of rustic jollity and pastoral picturesqueness.
Stephen Lawless seems uncertain as to how to inject focus into the slim plot, however. Its updating gave it more of a feeling of Ascot in York than Ascanio in Alba though the split stage, dividing Arcadia from the rest of the world, made the best of pretty static material.
The Northern Chamber Orchestra entered into the spirit of this quasi-authentic soundworld, and the singers injected as much zest as they could find in their somewhat cardboard characters. Lynda Russell is a manipulative Venus, the countertenor William Purefoy an appropriately puppyish Ascanio and Gillian Keith a pure- voiced Silvia.
Festival continues until 24 July (0845 127 2190)
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