15-16 Oct. If Fidelio sets the tone for this season at the Teatro dellOpera di Roma under Mauro Trombetta, the artistic director appointed last year, the opera-lover will have much to be happy about, as this production is superb on almost every front.

Fidelio had a chequered start to life; originally produced in 1805 and reworked by Beethoven for a new production in 1806, on neither occasion meeting with success, it was only given its definitive musical shape and libretto for the production in Vienna of 1814, when it was favourably received. However, it was not until 1822, with the 18-year-old Wilhelmine Schrder-Devrient in the title role, that Fidelio was launched as the glorious work it has since been recognized to be. This great singer, born into a family of actors, brought dramatic passion to the role, a passion to be reflected in her private life, as the series of three husbands, numerous lovers and children testified.

Musically, the Rome opera's house orchestra was on excellent form, and the conductor, Will Humburg, kept rhythms brisk and taut. He inserted Leonore no 3 between the two acts; it does not really fit anywhere but at the beginning of the opera, but is so splendid that it is welcome at any point, and here was thrillingly played.

Production, sets and costumes were in the hands of Giovanni Agostinucci, and inspired by post-revolution Paris; all were welcomely colourful and conventional, although perhaps the cloud of steam permeating the stage from the prison laundry throughout much of the first scene became rather a distraction. Florestans dungeon, with sheer anthracite walls, was superb, as was the irruption of light and gaiety at the prisoners liberation (see photo).

Susan Anthony, as heroine, sang most proficiently but with a certain lack of tonal charm and was a bit wooden in her acting, but the same cannot be said of Veronica Cangemi, Marzelline, who was enchanting and classy. Stephen Gould, Florestan, sounded glorious, if a little strained at the top of the range, while Alan Titus, as Pizarro the villain, was satisfactorily menacing, though perhaps a touch monotone.

www.john-fort.com.