For all their eagerness to embrace the new and radical, ENO are often at their best in more traditional fare. Jonathan Miller's delightful production, first seen last season, charms more than it challenges with a candy-coloured evocation of a more innocent age. The apple pie America of a 1950s prairie diner replaces the 19th century Italian village of Donizetti's original. In this Doris Day world of pincurled hair and spotless aprons, it's just about possible to believe that lovelorn grease monkey Nemorino is simple-minded enough to be taken in by slick and seedy salesman Dr Dulcamara, who claims a bottle of old plonk is an all-powerful love potion. We can even swallow his sassy sweetheart Adina's promise to marry a passing G.I. just a day after meeting him.

Ben Johnson © Tristram Kenton
Ben Johnson
© Tristram Kenton

Kelley Rourke's English libretto is a major part of the production's success. More than a translation, it's a clever update that fits the American theme. The words may not flow from the tongue with the liquid grace of Felice Romani's Italian original. And despite diction so superb it rendered surtitles unnecessary, the all-British cast's attempts at American accents are perhaps best glossed over. But that's soon forgotten in the the witty patter of Dr Dulcamara's ode to his potion, which he claims cures anything from 'gas in your interior' to a 'broad posterior'. The argument against performing operas in translation seems weak in the face of the immediate comic impact.

As Dulcamara, ENO stalwart Andrew Shore commands the stage from the moment he rolls up (literally) in his extravagantly finned vintage motor. His mastery of the challenging art of patter singing - enunciating a mouthful of words clearly at top speed - more than compensates for a touch of wear in his voice. He returns from the production's original run, as does Sarah Tynan, singing with crystalline precision and clarity as the Marilyn Monroe-lookalike Adina.

There's a danger the gullible Nemorino can seem ridiculous, which sours the opera's happy ending, but newcomer Ben Johnson is loveable enough to draw the whole audience on to his side. He sang with great beauty and style, only his top notes lacking the thrilling edge of the true Italianate tenor. As Nemorino's love rival Sergeant Belcore, Benedict Nelson tackles his first major ENO role with the ice-cool flair of G.I. Elvis.

The chorus perhaps need more time to settle in: the ladies executed a hilarious loo-queue scene with a precision timing not always heard in their singing, and the men weren't a great deal better. Rory Macdonald paced the ENO orchestra with instinctive dramatic flair though not perfect polish. Perhaps they'll improve as the run progresses. Despite this, a fine start to ENO's season, and unreservedly recommended for sagging spirits in need of a light-hearted lift."