Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito’s 1868 take on Goethe’s Faust, is one of Italian opera’s most underappreciated scores. It teems with bold and innovative effects, gorgeous arias, extended choral sequences and an overwhelming Prologue set in heaven.

The problem facing any director, however, is that Boito – the man who provided Verdi with such ingeniously crafted fillets of Shakespeare for Otello and Falstaff – offers only snapshots of the drama, a series of scenes in which little actually happens.

A scene from Simon Stone’s production of Mefistofele. Photo © Fabrizio Sansoni/Opera di Roma

Australian director Simon Stone rolls with that, his imagery symbolic rather than strong on narrative. In a trailer for his modern-dress Opera di Roma staging, he highlights the contemporary relevance of a scientist going head-to-head with mystical forces in an age inclined to seek digital solutions to analogue problems. “Is the desire to experience every moment of self-gratification as important as our sense of community and love for the other?” he asks. If he never quite gets to the root of either issue, it’s perhaps the fault of an opera where key events often happen between scenes.