DIRECTOR: Bartlett Sher

CONDUCTOR: Maurizio Benini

CAST: Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ambrogio Maestri

SETS: Michael Yeardan

COSTUMES: Catherine Zuber

RUNNING TIME: 174 minutes

RATING: ****

It’s been a tradition of late that the poster perfect Russian soprano Anna Netrebko should feature in the Metropolitan Opera’s opening production of a new season.

Nobody should complain, not even the cynics. Although vocally her timbre has become darker over the years, she has grown in stature as an actress.

Donizetti’s opera L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) is probably his most frequently performed work. The reasons are clear: Sceptics who think opera can’t ever be comic or joyful should be tied to their seats for this one!

The role of Adina still fits Netrebko’s slightly heavier voice, although some of the most taxing coloratura passages do not always sound as breathtakingly fluent as in the past.

It comes as no surprise that she will sing the role of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin – the Met’s choice for the opening production of its 2013-14 season.

Netrebko basically sings a bright and extremely likeable Adina. She totally avoids the pert, hard character-note and vocal tone which can make the character so unsympathetic.

She also sustains charm by capturing all the impish humour of the role. Her rendition of Prendi, per me sei libero has a special tenderness.

Matthew Polenzani, the American lyrical tenor who sings Nemorino, is no doubt the star of the show. In his singing and acting he achieved something special by reflecting the duality of this character – showing that he is simultaneously a strong and weak man.

A hilarious highlight to prove that he’s fully under his character’s skin happens during the trio with Adina and Belcore. He mocked them and even slapped her on her bottom.

His great vocal moment came with the famous aria Una furtiva lagrima (A furtive tear) when Nemorino realises that Adina loves him after all. The soothing tenderness and suavity of his vocal line and control over dynamics made it heart-rending.

Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien relishes the role of Belcore, the swaggering and charming sergeant. Every gesture and facial expression is made vivid by the voice which, in spite of one or two aspirates, copes gallantly with the flourishes of his cavatina.

The only Italian singer – apart from his compatriot, the conductor Maurizio Benini who extracts lots of fun and fizz from the orchestra – is the baritone Ambrogio Maestri as the quacksalver Dr Dulcamara. This portly giant is really the one who is presiding over the comedy. He brings ripeness of experience, personality and an Italianate vibrancy to his voice.

The devil is found in the articulation. It’s perfect.

Bartlett Sher, the American director who did wonders with his staging of Rossini’s Le comte Ory during the previous Met season, again pilots a psychologically charged take on this production.

With sets and costumes reflecting taste, it is often forgotten how enduring the mass scenes can be. They come to life in the choral work. The Met’s choir is once again in top form. Each member is a character in his/her own right.

• Screening at all Cinema Nouveau theatres.