Rich sponsors calling the tune are a perennial thorn in the flesh of opera and this is the topic of Richard Strauss's quirky masterpiece. Covent Garden's latest revival of the sleek, sophisticated production by Christof Loy is a resounding triumph. His stylish split-stage Prologue offers the perfect contrast of arid, empty wealth upstairs with the artistic temperament and creativity below. Dramatically this opera can be awkward - an opera within an opera, ultimately showing that tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. But this production handles it with an assurance that never falters.
Under the baton of Sir Antonio Pappano, Strauss's score has all the élan, warmth and humour to enrapture from first note to last. Karita Mattila is one of today's great Straussian voices and as the Prima Donna/Ariadne sets the bar high. Bacchus, the tenor Roberto Saccà, doesn't quite match her, but the dazzling coloratura of Jane Archibald's Zerbinetta proves an ideal foil.