Richard Strauss’ Capriccio is really an opera for opera-lovers. Not only is it an opera about opera, full of musical imagery, references to other works, and miniature stylistic pastiches, but it debates the very nature of opera itself, with its unique balance of poetry, music and drama. Possibly because of its unusual structure, being set in just one mammoth two-and-a-half hour long act, it has never achieved much popularity, so its presence on Met Opera on Demand is really a godsend, especially with its star-studded cast. The ability to pause and go for a cup of tea makes it somewhat more digestible than in the opera house!

At the head of this cast is one of the world’s foremost Strauss sopranos, Renée Fleming. Her warm lyric soprano voice is perfect here, but her versatility, moving from richness in the soaring melodies to agility and lightness, is what really impresses. Strauss called this opera “a conversation piece for music” and the musical lines often reflect this conversational structure, with few extended aria-like passages and many more short exchanges between characters. Fleming’s immense dramatic aptitude, and how she uses this musically, contributes just as much to her captivating performance as her wonderful voice.

Attempting to win Fleming’s affections is the silky smooth baritone Russell Braun, playing the poet Oliver and fighting logically for the prominence of words over music. But his velvet tones are all too well matched by those of tenor Joseph Kaiser, as the composer Flamand, whose affections naturally lie closer to music than text, and who is just as keen to charm the Countess into his arms.

Upsetting both lovers is the theatre director, La Roche, sung with a suitably pomp and solid finality by the bass Peter Rose. In his opinion, both music and words are mere slaves to the greater purpose of theatrical entertainment, and that’s the end of the matter! Sarah Connolly’s commanding stage presence makes her the perfect Clairon, a somewhat snooty actress, while the theatre-loving count (Morten Frank Larsen) provides considerable comedy with his small-town amateur dramatics style of acting.

This production by the English director John Cox resituates the drama from a 1770s French chateau to a 1920s, aristocratic drawing room, and the wonderful costumes and sets, by designer Robert Perdziola, truly evoke the Edwardian era, transporting you back in time. This transformation also makes this more comedic in the 21st century: the characters are more relatable and recognisable and the light-heartedness of the music and whole drama is released in a way that, today, would be held back by its intended 1770s setting.

This is not just a production for Strauss fans looking to see the final work of his long operatic career, seeking something which is often neglected by opera houses. It’s also a must for all opera fans looking for the final reward of their accumulated experience, and who perhaps wonder themselves whether music or words play the most important role.