This opera, first performed in 1823 at La Fenice in Venice, was the last Rossini wrote for an Italian theatre before taking off to try his fortune in Paris, and was an enormous success. Although its overture and one of the soprano arias have always remained in the concert repertoire, its popularity faded during the last century, both for the difficulty of finding adequate singers and for the action, a tale of treachery, remorse and mistaken identity, so far-fetched that the spectator finds it very hard to be emotionally involved. However, Rossini decks out this very flimsy frame with some of his most marvellous music.

The evening starts well; Ganluigi Gelmetti steers the Teatro di Roma orchestra through the superb and elaborate overture, far too jolly for the tragic story to follow, with great panache, and then maintains throughout the evening a high level of verve and sensitivity towards the singers.

The production, scenery and costumes are in the expert hands of Pier Luigi Pizzi. One set does for the whole evening, a wonderfully sumptuous baroque scene, much gilt and bronze and coloured marble columns topped with glittering capitals, reminiscent of Berninis arrangement for St Peters chair in the Vatican, with Semiramides Empire bed very prominent to the front of the stage.

Costumes are lavish and beautiful, acres of shimmering silk in pastel shades, silver and gold, both men and women vaguely Empire.

Darina Takova, the Bulgarian soprano, is rather short on acting talent, but has many of the vocal qualities required of a great Semiramide. Although her voice is inclined to become rather unattractive, almost a squall, at high volume, her very rapid, very even, perfect coloratura are breathtaking, particularly in the great show aria, Bel raggio lusinghier, one of the very peaks of the soprano repertoire, which was thrilling. She also has exhilarating very high notes, but is not generous enough in their use. Daniella Barcellona, as Arsace, on the other hand, is very generous in every way; she just opens her mouth and magical roulades and endless wonderful twiddles of one sort and another gush out in singing of the highest order.

Both of the two principal male parts are outstanding. Antonino Siragusa, as Idreno, although unfortunately resorting twice to falsetto, negotiated his way at dazzling speed round his fiendishly high and embellished arias with assurance and the sweetest of tones, while Michele Pertusi, as the villainous and menacing Assur, was superb both in vocal and acting skills.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome. Tel. 06481601

Further performances 18, 19, 20, 22, 23 February