La Calisto, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

You don't have to be a classics scholar to work out what motivates the gods, mortals and mythological beasties of Cavalli's capricious romp. It's sex, of course. Or is it love? Or is it love masquerading as lust? Or vice versa? Confused? You will be. When the randy god Jove (Umberto Chiummo) takes the express lift to earth from his heavenly penthouse, he has his sights set on plucking the virginal nymph Calisto (Sally Matthews). But it's the disguise he chooses for the exercise that renders the goddess Diana not so much chaste as chased.

One day, the talented David Alden might actually originate a Royal Opera production. In the meantime, we share with Munich what Alden describes as a "riotous sex-comedy production of a riotous sex comedy". And that it is. Swathed in gaudy zebra wall coverings and a tilting ceiling of illuminated spheres, like some designer firmament, Paul Steinberg's chic set and Buki Shiff's yet chicer costumes lend an appropriately louche, 1930s air to this racy 1650s farce. The visuals sit well with the bold contrasts of Cavalli's now coarse, now sensuous, score with its feisty dances and luscious harp- and theorbo-festooned arias. Ivor Bolton and the Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble and members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment give it a wonderful vitality and immediacy.

But a little Carry On Calisto goes a long way, and the evening only really comes into its own when counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo's exquisitely sung shepherd Endimione and Monica Bacelli's elegant and irresistibly funny Diana begin their tortuously protracted foreplay. Zazzo's seductive aria atop Mount Lycaeus, where he asks that his true love, his "rising star", illuminate the heavens as the moon, is the evening's musical highlight – and the scene that follows, where Diana's resistance weakens and she disowns her roving hand as having a mind of its own – a dirty one at that – is deftly and hilariously milked by Bacelli.

The lewdest carryings-on, though, involve the dame-like "spinster" nymph Linfea (Guy de Mey) making a last-ditch bid for carnal knowledge with the unsavoury Satirino (Dominique Visse), though her "big spender" striptease has little visible effect on the goat-boy's prosthetic member.

In the title role, Sally Matthews gloriously exploits the fabulous top and ever-ripening bottom of her beautiful voice – though in wittily making capital of her actual pregnancy she does pop rather earlier than expected.