Against The Metropolitan Opera's frequently lavish, glossy, goliath, groomed-to-perfection productions, John Dexter's 1970s-era Die Entführung aus dem Serail reads like a pastoral chamber piece with honest aspirations. Quilled by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner and Johann Gottlieb Stephanie for its 1782 Vienna première, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's comedic opera set in the 18th-century Turkish Empire tells the tale of two European couples – young nobles and their respective servants – plotting escape from a Turkish harem, held as slaves by the ruling Pasha after being delivered by pirates.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i> at The Met © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at The Met
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

Last revived on the Metropolitan Opera stage in 2008, Dexter's vision is as sunny and uncomplicated as its idyllic Mediterranean landscapes, unbound from nuance and fuss. Well-balanced, accessible and genial, the design aesthetic is resonant of an illustrated storybook in sunny, clean-cut, watercolor palettes, merit to set designer Jocelyn Herbert's light hand. Delivery was vertical, integrated and decorously polite.

Without a touch of demi-monde sleaze or rudeness, Pasha Selim's harem was a sparkling, sanitized seaside resort rendered in blue, marble mosaic tiles cast in diffused, cheerful, unshaded washes by lighting designer Gil Wechsler. Servants and groundskeepers were swathed in starched, sweat-proof textiles in sunset-sourced palettes. Shades of the rising and setting sun shone lavender, pink, orange and magenta in long, belted robes and jackets over harem-style pants. While the Eastern parties favored Turkish cuts, costume designer Jocelyn Herbert dressed the Westerners in deep blacks or rusted tonalities over neutrals – chestnut and oxblood accents over creamy linens with no-nonsense black leather shoes and accessories.

Albina Shagimuratova (Konstanze) © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Albina Shagimuratova (Konstanze)
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

Dark brilliance marked Albina Shagimuratova's Konstanze, at first glance a bit sluggish for Mozart's lighter gleam, but the soprano mastered a lovely liquid line with charm and accuracy. Well-executed emission was polished to perfection in “Martern aller Arten.” In a black velvet gown connecting the role's Spanish lineage, she commanded an easy authority. With breezy ease, Kathleen Kim's pint-sized Blondchen was an alluring, plucky soubrette. She shaped the role with enormous, generous personality, performing in admirably unselfconscious shades. "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" highlighted a plush, shimmery timbre tamed with great control.

Played as less of a haughty noble, Paul Appleby was a boy-next-door, beefy Belmonte, likeable, accessible and honest. A fine, papery timbre marked "Konstanze, Konstanze", sung with heartfelt sentiment. He brought a nice gravity and deep grooming to Mozart's lightweight heroism. Brenton Ryan gave boyish, lithe, flexible charm to Pedrillo, a fresh-faced scapegrace matched to a fresh voice, well-suited to the role.

Hans-Peter König's harem overseer Osmin was a deputy guard of little education and rough edges. Sleaze was downplayed for cartoonish lust as he sauntered the stage in crushed, liquid-effect orange velvet pants that pooled to his ankles and sagged from hips to knees. Cobwebs shaken from his deep bass, he descended to the lowest registers in resonant timbers. His boss, Pasha Selim, was played by Mathias von Stegmann as a nepotistic, even-tempered ruler with pensive dignity. An intelligent face and introvert phrasing made his final leniency towards the European captives more plausible.

Kathleen Kim (Blondchen) and Hans-Peter König (Osmin) © Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera
Kathleen Kim (Blondchen) and Hans-Peter König (Osmin)
© Ken Howard | Metropolitan Opera

With prolonged and loud applause greeting him at the beginning of every act, James Levine covered Mozart's light with dense shade. Exoticism and eroticism subdued and softened, ornaments were slim with little bite and less brilliance. Levine’s approach was overall gentle and baggy, but lacked Mozart’s graces and driving pulses. No worries – Dexter's blithe production balanced it out effortlessly for an overall genial performance.