The eighth annual International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival opens tomorrow, 28 July, for a three-week season until 19 August 2001. As in past years, the Festival is being held at the Buxton Opera House in the Peak District of Derbyshire.

The programme features 26 full-scale performances of some of Gilbert and Sullivan's most enduring operettas, including HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, The Gondoliers, Princess Ida and The Sorcerer. A festival highlight will be a new professional production of The Pirates of Penzance, performed by the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company. The cast includes three D'Oyly Carte stars - James Cleverton, Gareth Jones and Charlotte Page - who will reprise their roles from the recent production of the same operetta at the West End's Savoy Theatre (the home of Gilbert and Sullivan).

During the span of the Festival, there will also be over 100 fringe events including daytime workshops, masterclasses, recitals and video screenings as well as a nightly Festival Club and Cabaret.

The largest event of its kind anywhere in the world, the Festival attracts both visitors and leading performing groups from all corners of the UK and Ireland as well as from Europe and North America. The record for the longest distance travelled by a participating company this year goes to the Festival's first-ever Canadian entry, the Fraser Valley Stage Production Society, who are bringing 90 cast, crew and supporters to stage their production of Iolanthe on 8 August.

Founded in 1994, Festival celebrates the work of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan (pictured), one of this country's most successful writing partnerships. The pair found fortune and international fame at the turn of 20th century with their series of "topsy-turvy" Savoy operas, sponsored by the theatre's owner Richard D'Oyly Carte.

- by Terri Paddock