RICHARD Strauss's "grand operetta" is counted by some, including this reviewer, as their all time favourite opera. "Overlong" and "patchy" are adjectives commonly applied by the work's detractors. But of course, a successful Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose) depends as much on the staging as on the conductor, orchestra and singers. David McVicar's handsome production, replete with luxuriant 18th century costumes, was originally presented by Opera North in their 2001/02 season. Dietfried Burnet conducted those unforgettable performances with an innate sense of the Viennese idiom.

McVicar's setting is topped by twinkling gilded chandeliers which rise and fall in front of the ornate corinthian columns of a palatial hall. This backdrop captures the magnificence of the Marschallin's boudoir and the house of wealthy merchant Herr von Faninal. Concealed panels and trapdoors spring open to reveal the "spooks" hired to frighten and humiliate the odious Baron Ochs during his comical seduction scene. One of the strengths of a sharply observed production - directed for this revival by Elaine Tyler-Hall - lies in her knack of eliciting highly visual characterisations from every single member of the large cast. Both Durassie Kiangangu as the Marschallin's servant and Mark Burghagen as Ochs' illegitimate son Leopold are veritable scene stealers. I could scarcely take my eyes of the stage. Consequently, each of the three acts, far from seeming overlong, were of heavenly length.

Strauss's luscious music is suffused with a sequence of gorgeous Viennese Waltzes. The Orchestra of Opera North depicts bawdy comedy, gossip and sheer pandemonium as powerfully as it evokes poignant nostalgia. Strauss's consummate vocal writing - especially for the female voice - scales the heights in the great Act Three Trio. Ylva Kihlberg as the Marschallin, Helen Sherman in the trouser role of Octavian and Fflur Wyn as Sophie are all visually and vocally ravishing in this sublime scene. The mellifluous toned Henry Waddington is the most entertaining Baron Ochs that I have encountered. Helen Evora and Aled Hall as the Italian "spies" Annina and Valzacchi - white faced and dressed from head to toe in black - are a comic delight. Jung Soo Yun in the exquisite cameo role of the Italian Tenor is probably the most ardent interpreter of the role since Pavarotti. Opera North's new music director Aleksander Markovic releases the unbridled passion of the turbulent orchestral Prelude. The young Serbian maestro sets the scene for a bold and translucent performance of this enchanting opera.

Der Rosenkavalier continues at Leeds Grand on September 24 and 30 and October 22 and 28.

by Geoffrey Mogridge