IT is extraordinary to reflect that only 15 years separated the premieres of the latest two in this autumn’s Little Greats festival, so different are they in intent and effect. Gilbert & Sullivan’s first surviving operetta, Trial Bby Jury, appeared in 1875, while Pietro Mascagni’s melodramatic chiller, Rustic Chivalry, dates from 1890.

These productions were also poles apart. Given that almost all of Mascagni’s scenario takes place outside a church during an Easter morning service, Karolina Sofulak’s emphasis on the religious is perfectly apt. But this Polish director's Opera North debut, set in her home country in the late-1970s, is far from consistent. The stage is dominated by a huge cross carved into a wooden screen across the back of the stage, in Charles Edwards’s spartan set.

The story revolves around the lecherous activities of Turiddù, a young peasant who having seduced the pious Santuzza – and left her pregnant and excommunicated – returns to his former lover, Lola, who is now married to Alfio. This leaves everyone distraught. But having given us a Turiddù who is an emotionally undernourished mummy’s boy – mamma Lucia keeps the local store – Sofulak then paints him as sacrificial victim by having his arms outstretched against the cross during the service. The contrast jars and the mime during the prelude is confusing.

Jonathan Stoughton’s tenor is tight during Turiddù’s early siciliana. He does open up later, although his drinking-song before the close is less than compelling. Philip Rhodes brings a warm baritone to Alfio, while driving a bright red taxi, in which he dispatches Turiddù without the statutory fight. The real drama is in the soprano of Giselle Allen’s Santuzza, who all but tears her hair out in anguish. Katie Bray’s ingénue Lola and Rosalind Plowright’s forthright Lucia fill out the canvas. Tobias Ringborg’s orchestra blows hot and cold, reflecting the ambivalence on stage.

John Savournin’s production of Trial By Jury is a delight from start to finish. Transplanting the action to the 1920s, he gives us a film-star Plaintiff (Angelina) whose court action is clearly founded on a thirst for celebrity. Some might quibble with the prologue – Savournin’s own – spoken by a plummy-toned BBC reporter (Amy J Payne) over the overture. But it sets the scene perfectly.

Jeremy Peaker’s Learned Judge is masterly in his infirmities, while tucking into a hamper and hip-flask. Amy Freston’s Angelina is the very caricature of the self-regarding diva, complete with frisky pooch, even if her soprano is on the light side. Nicholas Watts is a charming defendant (a stripe-blazered Edwin), his diction impeccable. Claire Pascoe’s Counsel for the Plaintiff is persuasive, and Richard Moseley-Evans makes a frustrated Usher.

Tim Claydon’s witty choreography for the six bridesmaids chimes well with Savournin’s prevailing sense of the absurd. Oliver Rundell’s orchestra is particularly light on its toes and his chorus totally disciplined. Done to this standard – and in Gabrielle Dalton’s period costumes – this G & S is a sure-fire hit.