There's no such thing as a perfect comic opera, and I know it's wrong to describe any work of art as perfect. But seeing Mozart and da Ponte's Le Nozze di Figaro last night, I found this a difficult principle to accept: this opera is about as close as you can get.

Aleksandra Kurzak as Susanna, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Figaro © ROH 2012, Bill Cooper
Aleksandra Kurzak as Susanna, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Figaro
© ROH 2012, Bill Cooper

Many operas have a slew of memorable tunes; many have opportunities for singers to show off their qualities. What makes Figaro so special is that these things are wrapped up in a comic narrative that brims over with the joy of living and an understanding of human frailty, all with a faultless sense of pace and timing. It's a real ensemble piece: where the standard opera buffa of the period might have had three or four main roles, Figaro has ten roles important to the action (with apologies to the eleventh solo part Don Curzio). The sextet that closes Act II sums up the spirit of the work: six people singing at cross purposes yet somehow blending into a wonderful artistic whole.

I can imagine, therefore, that the task of casting Le Nozze di Figaro can't be an easy one: that's an awful lot of top quality singers that you need to bring together and turn into a functioning unit. The Royal Opera did a good job of this in last night's revival of David McVicar's 2006 production, completing their Mozart/da Ponte cycle for this season. The quality in every role was high both in singing and in comic acting, with the cast seeming to gel particularly well. The pairing of Ildebrando d'Arcangelo and Aleksandra Kurzak as Figaro and Susanna is a tried and tested one: d'Arcangelo blustering and slightly confused, Kurzak gorgeous in looks and sound and nicely credible in the stock role of the servant who is pretty and innocent but thoroughly streetwise. The surprise package for me was Rachel Willis-Sørensen, making her Royal Opera début: as the Countess, she gets the opera's two most lyrical numbers, Porgi, amor and Dove sono i bei momenti, and she brought the house down with both.

Antonio Pappano conjured up an excellent performance from the Royal Opera orchestra, light in touch and sprightly in pace; some nice period touches contributed by the use of unvalved brass instruments and Pappano conducting from the harpsichord. The word "sublime" is terribly clichéd when referring to Mozart's music, so I struggled to find an alternative. Ultimately, I failed: time and again, the music would simply make me settle back in my seat and think "goodness, how lovely this is".

On the minus side, Tanya McCallin's designs left me cold. Setting the costumes in the 1830s was claimed to "amplify the opera's undercurrents of unresolved class tensions in Revolutionary Europe"; I'm not convinced either that the concept is historically sensible or that the designs achieved it: most of the opera was in stone buildings with high ceilings which could have been anywhere at any time. The most interesting set was Figaro and Susanna's servant's garret, which provided a fine effect of being a dark, poky room in a grand palace, but the effect was rather lost when singers moved across the stage in front of it. The scenery in the garden in Act IV served merely to add confusion to a plot that is convoluted and difficult to follow in the first place.

But if the visuals of this production failed to enthuse me, everything else did. I have seen and listened to Le Nozze di Figaro countless times before, but I was still laughing at all the jokes. As the bedroom farce developed, I was squirming with embarrassment for Cherubino, smiling at the Count and Dr. Bartolo's bluster, wishing that the idiotic Antonio would stop coming in and spoiling everything and revelling in the general confusion as Marcellina discovers her real relationship to Figaro. The evening passed in a blur as I was enjoying the fun, loving the quality of the singing and transported to a higher plane by the music. Who can ask for more from an opera?