Though it was composed in the early years of a terrible war, Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio is poles apart in mood from the horrors of the concentration camps and bombed-out cities of Nazi Germany. Its celebration of art through a philosophical inquiry into the nature of opera, and its at times playful tone, are a defiant response to the conflict engulfing the composer’s homeland. It is therefore rather naughty of director Stephen Medcalf to remind us of it — though one can, of course, see why he has — in his impeccably performed new production of this sublime work at Grange Park.

Instead of setting the action in a chateau in late-18th-century France, as specified by Strauss, designer Francis O’Connor presents us with the depressing spectacle of the backstage area of a 1940s theatre. A long line of doors at once suggests those opening into prison cells. For the famous closing scene — a rapturous soprano solo for the Countess (the marvellous Susan Gritton) that is this opera’s equivalent of the Four Last Songs — we are amid a wasted urban streetscape (Dresden perhaps).

All joy and beauty are found in this production — and there is plenty of both — in the interaction of the gallery of appealing characters whose amorous ambitions and personal foibles are expressed in glorious music so perfectly fitted to their make-up.

Love interest looms large — in the Countess’s indecision over whether she favours the poet Olivier (baritone Roderick Williams) or the composer Flamand (tenor Andrew Kennedy), which personifies argument concerning the relative importance of words and music in opera; and in the burgeoning romance between her brother the Count (Quirijn de Lang) and the actress Clairon (Sara Fulgoni, both pictured above).

Among the many splendid ‘in-jokes’ is that involving the eight-strong chorus of brush-wielding domestics whose vocal scherzo expresses surprise at the servant classes being depicted on stage. The over-the-top antics of a pair of Italian opera singers (Sally Johnson and Wynne Evans) provoke laughter in a less subtle way. Performance of the night, under conductor Stephen Barlow, was from bass Matthew Best as theatre director La Roche. His delivery of the long defence of the art of theatre was masterly.

Until July 2. Box office: 01962 737366.