City Of London Sinfonia/Hickox, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Sarah Tynan has just emerged from the Royal Academy of Music, but she looks to have the calibre of a star. Last year's Drusilla in Poppea, this year she scored a hit as Janacek's Vixen before landing her first role for Welsh National Opera in Handel's Jephtha, where she instantly took the eye.

In Salieri's affable drollery Prima la musica poi le parole ("First the music, then the words"), first staged in 1786 in a double bill with Mozart's The Impresario, stealing the stage is obligatory. At the Barbican's lively semi-staging of the works, with a bracingly period-sounding City of London Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox, Tynan delivered two prima donnas: Salieri's Donna Eleonora, who dazzles with a knockout aria nicked from Giuseppe Sarti's Giulio Sabino, and the ghastly Miss Silverclang in Mozart's comparable play-within-a-play divertissement.

Tynan commands the Barbican stage, acts juicily, and serves up coloratura that would be acceptable at Salzburg. A triumph. Her "rivals" were splendid too, notably Joanne Lunn, who sails into a "madness" aria with aplomb. Both casts casually upstaged the English translations, but then, in the Salieri, that's the point.

Last weekend's laurels, however, go to Bampton Classical Opera, whose fabled luck held yet again : not a raindrop fell on the idyllic Deanery Garden for the first night of Salieri's Falstaff, premiered in 1899 (a century before Verdi's) and a perfect fit for Bampton's capable young Scottish-trained buffo baritone, Mark Saberton, revamped by the director Jeremy Gray as Colonel Blimp in a Dad's Army setting. This was full of relevant laughs, with Gilly French's slick translationsevincing a good deal of love for Salieri's opera, which is a joy.

Falstaff has a thumping good first scene, not quite sharply enough delivered by the conductor Murray Hipkin, who left a few awkward gaps but shifted the accompanied recitative along vividly from his quasi-fortepiano. Falstaff's big arias are terrific and Ford's every bit as witty (tenor Mark Wilde is fabulously funny). One aria went adrift in the open air; the rest was pure magic. The plum was Bardolph's sleep aria. If one needed proof of Salieri's stature, this alone, with its comically sliding chromatics, would suffice. Nicholas Merryweather seems a potential plus for any medium-sized opera company; sharp acting, clear delivery and a more than promising baritone.

Bampton Classical Opera performs Cimarosa's 'The Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra' at St John's, Smith Square, London (020-7222 1061) on 18 September