Opera Australia justifies its second production in eleven years of Emmerich Kalman’s 1915 operetta, The Gypsy Princess, as ‘artistically and financially very important’ to the company’s future. Operettas will pay only if they appeal, which is doubtful in the case of The Gypsy Princess given the discriminating applause on opening night. And by all means, lets enjoy the frivolities of Strauss’s The Gypsy Baron rather than the fake profundities of the current Il trovotore.

The production team, led by the company’s Artistic Administrator, Stephen Maunder, failed to surmount the musical and dramatic flaws in The Gypsy Princess by not being able to make up their mind about the tenor of the work. Is it all froth, or is there a message lurking in the military and class twists in the plot? Even the costumes were a muddle of high couture and low comedy. Maunder claims to be serving up ‘the theatrical equivalent of vintage champagne’ but passed off the Porphry Pearl.

Although there are no laughs until after interval, the first act is risible, with music hall lyrics such as ‘The ladies, the ladies, the ladies of the chorus’ set to a beat which could not set feet tapping. The solitary pleasure came with ‘Girls are essential for love’.

The trouble is that the songs never progress the action yet are too much alike each other to be ‘numbers’, let alone showstoppers. A perceptive production would have inserted a song from another operetta to give the audience what we were dying for, namely, the wickedness of Heather Begg’s basso profundo.

The sets mimic the lacquer of the Viennese Secession, a choice as predictable as the rest of the staging proved ponderous. The gilded columns crowded the cast towards the apron, leaving too little space for dancing. The chandelier has to rise and fall more often than the curtain so that the revolve can operate.

The clutter hardly mattered because the principals were given so little to do. One attempt at a chorus line creaked its way out of a ‘knees bend’ that would have been a credit to a concert party in a retirement village. The evening needs more stage business to distract from the banalities of the book and the flatness of the score.

The bright and shining star was Angus Wood, a Romantic baritone whose attainments remind us that we do not have a resident tenor to match even one of his galaxy of talents. Mr Wood has the vim and dashing looks to be a matinee idol. And he can truly dance. His entrancing and flexible voice benefits from exact articulation and effortless projection. He has previously appealed as Papageno in The Magic Flute and in the title role in Pelleas and Melisande. His stagecraft is convincing even when he is hamming. Was the collapsing telephone a rehearsed routine, or his rapid reaction time? Either way, his handling was perfection. What a woeful night it would have been without him. Given an entire playbill with his capacities, the Kalman might have been restored to life. Instead, those with tickets for the second cast, which includes Wood, won’t be missing anything on stage.

Yvonne Kenny in the title role was too staid, dramatically and vocally, to portray an Hungarian cabaret star, falling short of fire in both love and hate. Kenny looks uncomfortable moving and singing at the same time, and even more awkward when trying to kick over the traces. Her technical accomplishments as a prima donna tripped her attempt at the vocal fripperies.

Graeme Ewer made the mistake of aiming at a middle-European accent which he had the wit to drop, though he continued to fall short of his reputation as a comic tenor. The problem was indecisiveness about how to play the sadder but wiser roue, an uncertainty which accentuated the reediness spreading through his voice.

Emma Mathews proved sprightly but, compared with her recent triumphs, sounded subdued.

The Swedish conductor Ola Rudner brought out the ornaments in the score, heightening expectations for his coming performances of Cosi fan tutte, and for the announcement of a continuing position for him in Australia. He got the details of Kalman’s orchestration to float out of the Opera House pit that lesser maestros merely moan about.