THE boss of Leeds Playhouse, James Brining, has directed various musicals for Opera North, but this new production marks his debut in full-on opera.

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film of The Magic Flute, he opens with a dumb show of a young girl preparing for bed with an LP – cue Mozart’s overture – before her arguing parents, throwing a rowdy dinner party upstage, storm in separately to say goodnight.

All of this is intensely irritating: why should overtures be treated with such disdain? It is only with the wisdom of hindsight that we realise the parents have become Sarastro and the Queen of Night. You could be forgiven for not noticing that Robert Howarth has meantime squeezed a tasty period-style overture from his orchestra.

The action becomes the girl’s nightmare, as she cowers behind her bedpost at Tamino and the monster. She pops up intermittently, often in a gaggle of children including the Three Boys. They are part of Sarastro’s sinister commune, all of whom sport plum-coloured uniforms, to Colin Richmond’s designs, the ladies – minions in this arena – as nuns, the children like scouts at a jamboree.

John Savournin’s rigidly aloof Sarastro typifies Brining’s focus on darker undercurrents. Kang Wang, new to Leeds, offers a stylish Tamino, full-bodied at the start, but tenderer with Pamina and sensitive in ensemble. The best diction comes from Gavan Ring’s irrepressible Papageno, his Irish brogue injecting much-needed comic zest. Vuvu Mpofu, making her UK debut, overcomes a nervy start as Pamina to produce some radiant sounds. Samantha Hay, another Leeds debutante, is a statuesque Queen of Night, pinging her coloratura with pin-point accuracy.

The orchestra responds well to Howarth’s attempts to move things along in period style: phrasing is chaste and accents shrewd. After a touch of pantomime revelry in the last chorus, we are finally left alone with the young girl and Sarastro, innocence and experience seemingly unreconciled. It is all very calculated, when what we really need is spontaneity. Brining needs to learn that, in opera, less is more.

In rep until March, then touring until March 23.