Tim Hopkins, adaptor, director and designer, has taken his cue from the composer and gives us an opera rich in details and humour even if it is a bit self-conscious at times.
The story is narrated by a talkative mute (Nadia Morgan). Belmonte (Allan Calyton) travels from Spain to Turkey to rescue his beloved Constanze ( Kate Valentine) who, along with the servants Blonde (Elena Xanthoudakis) and Pedrillo ( Nicholas Sharratt), has been captured by Pasha Selim (Martin Hyder). Having got around the Chief of Security Osmin (Clive Bayley) Belmont encounters a more substantial obstacle - that the captives may have developed affection for their captors.
The adaptation of the opera by Hopkins, Nicholas Ridout and Amanda Holden promotes cheerful, light, wordplay, such as "His history is a mystery." The direction by Hopkins emphasises the comedy that arises from the misunderstandings and misjudgements that pop up throughout the opera.
Belmonte arrives done up like someone out of the Arabian Nights to find that Turkey is a modern city being redeveloped and full of skyscrapers. A scene in which the footsteps of the lovers are amplified to confuse their pursuers concludes with the echoing footsteps of the pianist as he leaves the stage. Sometimes, however, the joke goes too far, like when Osmin shakes a scale model of the palace the cast are thrown about the stage.
On occasion the direction is confusing. The Pasha uses a choir to declare his love but, for some reason, they are obscured by a filmed ,real-time, close-up of the orchestra.
The opera is sung in English which avoids the distancing effect of having to read subtitles and allows us to concentrate on the performances as a whole not just the music and singing. The technical ability of the cast is not in doubt but we can better appreciate their acting skills. Bayley has a voice like a rumbling avalanche but is also able to create a comic character as he is aware of the humour that is generated by deflating an over-dignified bureaucrat. The tenderness in Clayton's voice when he sings of his lost love is every bit as important as his tenor sound.
The opening of the second act is wonderful featuring a powerful extended solo by Valentine followed by the principals performing together in a manner that allows their voices to both merge and swirl around each other.
Mozart's opera sometimes makes you feel that a little less would have been more. This production by Opera North has the same effect but remains a beautifully sung opera which comes close to achieving its comic potential.