Words or music first? Which to start with and which the more important? These were questions of major concern to Richard Strauss whose biggest operatic success, Der Rosenkavalier, was described on its score, believe it or not, as a “comedy for music by Hugo von Hofmannsthal”.

The questions take a central place in his last opera, Capriccio, which he called a “conversation piece” but which has long been regarded as a work of much greater significance than this suggests.

By turns flippant and melancholic, the opera is packed with the sort of glorious melodies – for the soprano voice in particular – for which Strauss is famed.

Present, too, are well-judged pastiches of other operatic styles – including Italian, from a preening duo of caricature performers (Nika Goric and Caspar Singh) – and music from composers such as Couperin and Rameau contemporary with its late-18th-century setting.

The opera is self-referencing to a degree. A character talks of the boredom of recitatives, and we hear some; the orchestra is said to drown out the singers and it does. The vital need to hear what’s being ‘said’ at other times led to much rustling of libretti when Capriccio was first given at the ‘old’ Garsington in 1994. Returning in these days of surtitles, the opera’s wit can be savoured with eyes fixed on the glories on the stage, principal among them the widowed Countess as portrayed by Miah Persson.

The Swedish soprano is at the top of her game and supplies a sensational performance as the lovely aristocrat undecided between words and music as personified by her rival wooers, the poet Olivier (baritone Gavan Ring) and composer Flamand (tenor Sam Furness).

The focus of their struggle is the opera they are supplying for her birthday, with their high-falutin’ debate contrasting amusingly with the down-to-earth approach of its director La Roche (Andrew Shore). Also involved are her brother, the Count (William Dazeley), and the comely actress Clairon (mezzo Hanna Hipp) with whom he is in love. Under the baton of Douglas Boyd, this is a musical joy, especially the opening string sextet and the soaring ‘moonlight interlude’. Until June 28. 4/5