Director: Christine Crouse for Cape Town Opera

Soloists: Zanne Stapelberg, Adrian Dwyer, Philisa Sibeko, Fikile Mvinjelwa

Venue: Artscape Opera House until May 18

Giacomo Puccini's music is simply stupendous and indestructible. He had a gift for song and searing vocal lines that tug at the heart strings. Soaring strings, full-bodied brass and tender harp or solo wind interludes all combine to create glorious music.

The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Fransisco Bonnin, played beautifully, carrying the audience along emotionally and enabling much easier character identification by the audience.

Once again, it was most gratifying to hear the vocal quality of some of the local singers. Zanne Stapelberg (Mimi) is a well-established singer with a pleasing soprano voice. Her dramatic acumen was not always convincing, but Act IV was tenderly poignant.

Philisa Sibeko (Musetta) last month sang the lead in Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. These two productions have deservedly catapulted her from obscurity into the operatic limelight. She is vocally strong, and imbued her character with all the necessary coquettish charm and mood swings.

As her sometimes romantic partner, Fikile Mvinjelwa (Marcello) again endeared himself to the audience. His is a strong baritone voice, rich in sonority and capable of good projection. His was arguably the best performance of the evening, both vocally and dramatically.

The imported tenor, Adrian Dwyer gave a dramatically strong interpretation of Rodolfo. But while his voice was pleasant enough and technically capable of hitting the high notes, he just couldn't match the vocal power of the other three leads mentioned above.

The unfortunate result of this vocal mismatch was that the important ensemble work of the middle two acts collapsed. Dwyer was constantly swamped by the other voices, especially in the quartets.

Three other local singers were also heard, to differing degrees of success. Marcus Desando in two cameo roles (the landlord and Musetta's rich toyboy) was often swamped by the orchestra and rendered inaudible.

So too with Gabuka Booi as Schaunard and Xolela Sixaba as Colline. They certainly provided comic relief, and when singing solo, impressed. But the male quartets, as well as the rapid fire alternating sections of solo snippets in the outer acts, failed because of inaudibility.

Peter Valentovic deserves praise for training the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Chorus, and for co-ordinating the Chorus with the children's choir and onstage band. No small task in getting about a hundred people, most of them scholars or amateurs, working together. And they sounded good.

For those who don't know yet: the vivacious Dr Ramphele Mamphela is now the patron of Cape Town Opera. With her at the helm of motivating further sponsorships and her sheer infectious enthusiasm, the Cape Town opera audience is probably assured of many more enjoyable productions in the future.