With the very last of the cherry blossom still shivering along the canals of Amsterdam, it’s the perfect moment to take Strauss’ ever-popular swoon-fest of fleeting time and fugitive romance for one more spin across the floor. 

Maria Bengtsson (Marschallin)
© Clärchen & Matthias Baus | Dutch National Opera

German director Jan Philipp Gloger made his Dutch National Opera debut in 2015 with this ebullient production of Strauss’ 1911 comedy, with the themes of time passing and times past very much in mind. At a moment when the world began to wake up to the uncomfortable revelations of the #metoo movement, team Gloger duly loaded this Rosenkavalier not just with the customary buckets of twinkling charm but with an edgy topical satire that, it turns out, “die Zeit” being “ein sonderbar Ding” and all that, now feels a little over-egged.

In nearly a decade since the production’s premiere, the lens through which we saw the middle-aged white man as uniquely capable has been given such a thorough spring clean that we see his fallibility now with almost 20/20 vision. I say almost. The curtain call reveals an all-male production team. In the circumstances, hanging a sign on a trouserless middle-aged white man at the end of an elaborate fight in Act 3 is less of a joke, more a comforting hark-back to a time gone by.

Der Rosenkavalier
© Clärchen & Matthias Baus | Dutch National Opera

But there we are. Progress is not linear, as the hesitating two-steps-forward-one-step-back silver rose motif reminds us, and what does still feel real and challenging is this production’s darker thread of sexual power-play. Strauss knew exactly what he was doing less than a decade into the last century when he gave the man-baby Baron Ochs his famously hypnotic Viennese waltz for “Ohne mich” which is here by turns persuasive, gas-lighty, then desperate. Christoff Fischesser was wonderfully cast as a delusional weekend squash-fiend who turns up at the Marschallin’s in his sweaty kit and likes the sound of his own voice – though who wouldn’t if they sounded as good as Fischesser. Without him the world would be more pleasant all round, something perhaps even he knows by the end of Act 2 when he flicked on the glitterball and waltzed alone in his underpants, a sorry end to his blasted nuptials.

Christof Fischesser (Baron Ochs)
© Clärchen & Matthias Baus | Dutch National Opera

Let’s leave the leading man there because this night belonged to the women. Quite simply, Maria Bengtsson as the Marschallin and Angela Brower as Octavian blew everyone else clean off the stage, vocally, physically, chemically. It’s no easy thing convincingly to begin a scene, let alone a whole opera, at the climax of romantic attachment, but from the moment the curtains were drawn back on their languid morning after, the relationship between the two of them was palpably and gloriously real. Brower’s voice had all the energy, clarity and hard-edged boldness of inexperienced youth, while Bengtsson’s was gentler, more sensual and suggested a more complex hinterland. Together, they were as deliciously irresistible as any fleeting love affair ought to be.

Angela Brower (Octavian) and Nina Minasyan (Sophie)
© Clärchen & Matthias Baus | Dutch National Opera

Then just when you think, as Octavian does, you’ve heard everything, the petite Nina Minasyan as Sophie spun the silken high D of the Presentation of the Rose duet with such perfect delicacy that time seemed to stand still. She might have struggled for volume against the combined power of Bengtsson and Brower in the final trio but then the Marschallin’s magnanimity in her own self-inflicted defeat by the power of love is the whole point.

Talking of which, orchestras: get a conductor who looks at you the way Lorenzo Viotti looks at the Netherlands Philharmonic in the closing stages of this four-hour emotional endurance test during which every texture, every shade, every triumph and every vulnerability has been laid bare. As the opera drew to a close, Viotti’s outstretched arms seemed to reach right around the players in the pit. They love each other. You could hear it.