Perhaps it's too much to hope that a one-night stand will resemble the real thing. Yet William Huckaby, filling in for conductor Gerard Schwarz, brought something like love to a performance Saturday night of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio."

It was a rare opportunity for this phantom of the opera to take a few bows. Huckaby, who also conducted the weekend before in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, has been directing the chorus behind the scenes--just as he does, without much recognition, for all Washington Opera productions.

He actually is more experienced in opera than Schwarz, a Mozart specialist for whom "The Abduction" marked an operatic debut. And Saturday night, in Schwarz's absence, Huckaby's bows were amply deserved.

In this performance near the end of the opera's run, there was a new sense of intimacy, balance and pace: partly because the singers and orchestra must feel more at home with the music, and partly because a different perspective--namely Huckaby's--can add new life. While the production still has problems, notably the lead tenor's so-so singing and so-what acting, it seems to have benefited from some skillful fine-tuning, while the energy level has managed to stay high.

The singing of Karen Hunt, as the opera's romantic heroine, Constanza, has improved noticeably. Not only is she harnessing her powerful instrument to serve Mozart's elegant music, she's attending to the words of Andrew Porter's new English translation of the opera.

Ronald Hedlund, a comic delight as the malevolent Osmin, steward of the Turkish palace where the opera is set, is singing with as much gusto as ever--and hitting the role's impossible low notes to boot. Kathryn Gamberoni and David Gordon, in the parts of Constanza's maid and Belmonte's servant, remain a double pleasure to watch and hear. Huckaby's chorus did him proud.