This exuberant revival of Jo Davies' five-year-old Opera North production works just as well as its forerunner, possibly better, with mainly new performers linking with three accomplished veterans from the original. The company is convinced (once again) that it is just the thing to introduce younger newcomers to opera through its Under 30s ticket scheme. It would be hard to disagree: with few static moments, slickly-organised blocking, plenty of laughs and mostly superb singing, it was highly attractive for the audience on opening night.

Fflur Wyn (Susanna) and Phillip Rhodes (Figaro) © Robert Workman
Fflur Wyn (Susanna) and Phillip Rhodes (Figaro)
© Robert Workman

The windows, doors and hiding places essential for this opera buffa are well incorporated into the set (designed by Leslie Travers), first encountered in a kind of backstage view, all workings exposed, with characters bustling back and forth through various entrances as the playful mood was precisely established by the orchestra (conducted by Antony Hermus), which followed the action until the finale with care and subtlety. Later aspects of the set revealed considerable neglect and impending desolation, symbolic of an aristocracy approaching the end of its power. Laths are exposed in ageing plaster, and at several points in Act 3 one of the entrances seemed to be through a swathe of peeling green wallpaper at the top of a rickety stairway.

Máire Flavin (Countess Almaviva), Heather Lowe (Cherubino) and Fflur Wyn (Susanna) © Robert Workman
Máire Flavin (Countess Almaviva), Heather Lowe (Cherubino) and Fflur Wyn (Susanna)
© Robert Workman

Much of the comic impact of the production was due to the sensitive wit of Jeremy Sams, whose flexible translation is full of delights, as in the action involving Figaro and the drunken gardener Antonio, who has witnessed a panic-stricken Cherubino leaping from a window on to his flowerbed. He “buggered off”, according to the gardener, who entered followed by a clumsy minion pushing a wheelbarrow load of hydrangeas. As the gardener, baritone Jeremy Peaker was an hilariously brusque, stock Yorkshireman. Translations for other characters match their status: when Countess Almaviva (soprano Máire Flavin) sang her famous aria in Act 3 “I remember his love so tender” (“Dove sono”) she emanated warmth along with elegance, and brought a strong feeling of sadness. Here, the English words fitted perfectly. However, when Figaro sang his equally famous “Here’s an end to your life as a rover” (“Non più andrai”) in Act 1, the words seemed to have slightly less edge than the Italian, but it was not important, because baritone Phillip Rhodes delivered it so well in nuanced segments, turning down the power where necessary, and giving time for Cherubino to be quickly kitted out with her blanket cloak and chamber pot hat. Rhodes’s considerable acting skills and dark voice were just right for the part.

Quirijn de Lang (Count Almaviva) and Máire Flavin (Countess Almaviva) © Robert Workman
Quirijn de Lang (Count Almaviva) and Máire Flavin (Countess Almaviva)
© Robert Workman

Soprano Fflur Wyn was a terrific, spirited Susanna, her voice purer and clearer the higher she reached, and adept at the stylised gestures used by all the characters, particularly with the arms and hands. As Cherubino, mezzo Heather Lowe was a deliciously gangly moonstruck adolescent and a natural comic actor, and mezzo Gaynor Keeble as the housekeeper Marcellina, who is revealed to be Figaro’s mother just before he is supposed to marry her, brought much charisma. She was a star at the end of Act 2 in the organised chaos following the apparent frustration of Figaro’s plan to marry Susanna, energetically throwing feathers from a pillow into the air. The versatile baritone Quirijn de Lang was the ultimate Count Almaviva as he demanded his ancient right to deflower a bride on her wedding night, perhaps a little more ruthless than when I saw him in the part five years ago. He was a kind of militarised version of Basil Fawlty as he pursued Susanna, most impressive in the darkness and follow-spots of Act 4, when he mistakes his wife for his prey.

Jonathan Best (Bartolo), Joseph Shovelton (Basilio), Quirijn de Lang, Gaynor Keeble (Marcellina) © Robert Workman
Jonathan Best (Bartolo), Joseph Shovelton (Basilio), Quirijn de Lang, Gaynor Keeble (Marcellina)
© Robert Workman

The Grand Theatre seems to have dug some of its old footlights from its basement for this production which has a generally Edwardian flavour, but it is also quite eclectic in style, with an Orthodox priest swinging an incense burner at the weddings, and a gardener from Barnsley.

****1