Although stylistically a descendant of the spectacular tradition of French Grand Opera, with its multifarious ballets, huge choruses, numerous singers, lavish sets and orchestration, Aida from the start was effortlessly popular, whereas the various Dinorahs, LAfricaines, La Juives, comparatively bereft of both really memorably beautiful arias and dramatic content, struggle to survive. Aida bursts with everything; not only trumpets, exotic settings and scoring, glorious arias and choruses, but also passion, jealousy, agonizing dilemma and tragedy. However, if not well done, it can seem rather long.

In these cash-straightened times, economical sets are highly commendable, and producer Paolo Miccichs use of Egyptian-inspired images projected onto the towering ruins of Romes Baths of Caracalla in the background and on to a series of panels and screens on stage was most ingeniously done. There was a whole gamut of hieroglyphs, papyrus boats, chariots, columns and so on which left no doubt as to where the action was taking place, but perhaps the changes were too frequent not to distract, and at times the images flowed like a river across everything, the stage, the ruins, the costumes, rather disconcertingly, producing in the viewer a queasiness like that of the drunkard experiences when the ceiling starts to spin.

The conductor was Placido Domingo, who of course appeared to rapturous enthusiasm; his genius as a singer is not matched by his proficiency as a conductor, but with an expertise drawn from singing a thousand Radameses, he took the orchestra through its paces perfectly efficiently, if a little sedately. The chorus, under Andrea Giorgi, was very impressive, as were the various dance interludes, choreographed by Juan de Torres.

And now the singers.

Silvie Valayre, who gave such a superb performance as Salome at the Auditorium last November, was indisposed for the first night, her place being taken by the Belgian Isabelle Kabatu. She manages all the notes and can spin a passable fil di voce, but her voice is not beautiful, and even Oh, patria mia, one of the most freely ranging and richly melodic, and incidentally one of the most loved, of all Italian soprano arias, was hardly a great pleasure. Mariana Pentcheva as Amneris was powerful and vindictive, with strong, dark tones slightly marred at loud and dramatic moments by a very distinct beat, quaver, vibrato or whatever it can be called, while Mario Malagnini, Radames, was quite heroic, but possibly a bit monotone. The other main male roles were all satisfactory, with Juan Pons as Amonasro, Giacomo Prestia as Ramfis and Carlo Cigni as the king.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Terme di Caracalla, Rome, tel. 06 481601, www.opera.roma.it.

Further performances: 27, 28, 29, 30 July, 2, 3, 4 August 2005

www.john-fort.com