ROSSINI got away with all sorts of irreverent cracks about connubial infidelity and patriotism in an age when such literary and artistic shenanigans were closely monitored by state censors. The Washington Opera's production of "L'Italiana in Algeri" currently playing at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, under no such constraints, flaunts Rossini's irreverences gloriously.

Central to these goings-on is the Bey, Mustafa, who, as the opera develops, is reduced to mewling idiocy by the wiles of Italian castaway Isabella. Mimi Lerner has some wonderful moments as Isabella, but Franc ois Loup's Mustafa steals the show, both dramatically and vocally. These two get strong support from Pamela South as Elvira, the rejected wife; Gordon Hawkins, chief palace guard; Jan Opalach as the ineffectual suitor; Gloria Parker as Elvira's friend; and Marcus Haddock as Lindoro, Isabella's true love.

The story, full of improbable 18th-century twists, has been transported to the 1920s. Director Leon Major has equipped the Bey with a vintage Mercedes and a bicycle but has retained the exotic trappings that the 18th century tended to attribute to settings like Algeria and has integrated these ideas convincingly. Zack Brown's scenery and costumes are simple and well executed, and conductor Joseph Rescigno paces things well but has some trouble coordinating some of the complicated stage ensemble. Unsung, but definitely an asset, are the Surtitles {captions projected above the stage} that make this sort of opera truly accessible to the audience. THE WASHINGTON OPERA

performs "L'Italiana in Algeri" Thursday, January 22 and 29 and February 2, 4 and 6, with matinees Saturday and January 16, 24 and 31.