This is a marvellous production of this much-loved opera. Da Ponte created a delightfully witty libretto from the very slenderest of plots, observing human behaviour, as in all great comedy, with profundity, sympathy and humour. Although the story proceeds slowly, such is Mozarts bubbling invention and gaiety that, even with only adequate singers, the three hours plus of music passes quickly; here, however, we do not have adequate singers, but superb ones, young and attractive, with outstanding voices of the greatest promise.

Gianluigi Gelmetti doubles as conductor and producer, and does an excellent job as both. The action evolves to a backdrop of an idealised bay of Naples in vaguely Roman times. The beautiful scenery, by Maurizio Varamo, is painted, drawing inspiration from villas at Pompeii, with a touch of the dreamy and whimsical classical atmosphere portrayed in the works of Alma-Tadema. A delicate eroticism pervades, thanks to the almost continuous presence of slave girls in short and diaphanous peplums and muscular male slaves, half-naked to the waist, to say nothing of the physical charms of the protagonists themselves, all enhanced by the sensuous and colourful costumes of Anna Biagiotti. Gelmetti takes the overture at a relaxed pace without being slow, and this sets the tone for the whole evening. He is never in haste, thereby favouring the sensitive accompaniment required to draw the very best from the singers.

But it is the singers who really make the evening, every one of them acting and singing gloriously.

Fiordiligi is Anna Rita Taliento, slight and wiry, endowed not only with beautiful tone but the extreme virtuosity to throw off with apparent effortlessness the great soprano showpiece, Come uno scoglio, with its enormous leaps from top to bottom of the soprano range and dazzling rapid passages, composed by Mozart to poke fun at the talents of Ferrarese del Bene, lover of da Ponte and the first Fiordiligi, who was inordinately proud of her abilities and not a favourite of the composer. The passage in triplets towards the end was thrilling. Laura Polverelli, Dorabella, also has exquisite vocal talents, but perhaps the most arresting voice of the evening is that of the tenor Vittorio Grigolo, Ferrando, with a truly glorious voice, strong and golden, though perhaps with a very slight tendency to strain on the topmost notes. Massimilano Gagliardo, in the bass role of Guglielmo, cannot be faulted, while the Laura Cherici as Despina is the very apotheosis of the pert, scheming, immoral and well-meaning servant, singing her various enchanting arias beautifully. The mountainous Bruno Pratic, as the cynical bachelor Don Alfonso, was the exception in the cast as far as physical charms go, but sang with a grace and acted with a humour that could not be bettered.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma at Teatro Nazionale, Via del Viminale 51, Rome. Tel. 06481601, www.opera.roma.

3 May 2005, further performances 5, 6, 7, 8 May 2005.

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