Take a dozen first-rate singers and a bouncy band. Add the most stunning costumes for several seasons. Combine with a spikey score and a Da-da-ist story-line until Opera Australia had every ingredient but one for a knock-out account of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1919 Love for Three Oranges.

The plot derives from commedia dell’arte. A hypochondriac prince is cheered up by seeing a witch, Elizabeth Whitehouse, fall over. She reacts by condemning him to love three oranges, from the last of which he rescues his human love. In case the action is not mad-cap enough, groups disrupt the performance by demanding their favourite form of theatre, whether romance, tragedy, comedy, lyricism or nonsense.

Love for Three Oranges is full of a wit which demands intelligence from all concerned on stage. Instead, the first half achieved its laughs from the Tom Stoppard surtitles. Mirth never rippled across the footlights. Director Francesca Zambello appears to be rhythm deaf. How else could she let the chorus triss on the spot to the famous march? Equally, why were the comic talents of Teddy Tahu Rhodes ignored? A choreographer would have created a the kaleidoscope of Tania Noginova’s costumes to dazzle and delight.

The second act became several degrees funnier because the numbers on stage fell to a handful. Arend Baumann excelled as a Pantomime Dame, bringing a coyness to the role of cook that in lesser hands collapses into Aunty-Jack style hysterics. All the cast were helped by the craft of William Ferguson as the jester Truffaldino.

Canadian tenor John Mac Master as the prince has the only extended role which gets underway by requiring him to switch from sook to spunk. This transformation he achieved by contriving a laugh which was utterly convincing with its metallic tone.

Opera Australia’s latest Music Director, Richard Hickox, steered clear of the farcical to elicit frantic fun from his players, giving the ensemble of principals some of the help that the direction did not deliver.