Long before the tears of a clown were celebrated in the pop song smash of that name from Smokey Robinson, they were a familiar feature of opera in such works as Verdi’s Rigoletto and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.

Jacques Offenbach’s Fantasio is another of them, though few will have realised, since the piece utterly vanished from the radar after its premiere at Paris’s Opéra-Comique in 1872.

The classy revival at Garsington – a merry romp in the festival’s larkiest spirit – was actually (and astonishingly) the opera’s first airing in Britain, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its composer’s birth.

The premiere followed Garsington’s rediscovery five years ago of another of his neglected works, Vert-Vert, which was given for the first time in the UK in its complete version, under director Martin Duncan.

He took control again for Fantasio, with the Garsington Opera Orchestra conducted by Justin Doyle supplying the lovely lilting melodies of which Offenbach appeared to possess an unlimited supply.

The plot of the piece – entertainingly presented in English with a witty translation by Jeremy Sams – came over as pretty much hokum, as childish in its way as the cartoonish, primary solour sets from Francis O’Connor.

At is centre was Bavarian princess Elsbeth – presented with huge vocal fireworks by Jennifer France – on the brink of a dynastic marriage to the dimwit Prince of Mantua (Huw Montague Rendell).

Hotly in pursuit, too, however, was the doting Fantasio, a trouser role brilliantly handled by mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp (pictured).

One of a group of comic students, he took on the motley of the deceased court jester, the better to woo his beloved, who’d had a soft spot for the man.