Five:15, Oran Mor, Glasgow

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The Independent Culture

Alex Reedijk, the general director of Scottish Opera, has a reputation as a fixer. Things had gone awry before he took up the post two years ago; retrenchment and endless Carmens and Traviatas seemed likely.

It has not been like that. In fact, he is leading a programme to create new operas, and the latest experiment – five short works by Scottish-based composers – is about the most unusual thing the company has done. But a whole opera in 15 minutes? A tall order.

The librettists, too, were Scottish residents. Mainly novelists and poets, they showed variable understanding of the art of the opera text. The crime writer Ian Rankin did best with Gesualdo, to music by Craig Armstrong. The tale of murder and suicide was des-patched in short phrases, Armstrong's texture resembling the canto fermo of the 16th century; his protagonist was, of course, a composer of madrigals. It was grim, dark, shattering.

At the opposite pole was Bernard MacLaverty's The King's Conjecture, set by Gareth Williams. This was a lyrical and poignant tale, set in the time of James IV. Williams's music – liquid, translucent, deeply moving – was built around the evening's only true aria.

The words for Nigel Osborne's moving The Queens of Govan are written by Suhayl Saadi in a rather dispiriting working-class Scots. It portrayed an Asian girl (sung by Elizabeth McCormack) on her way to work in a Glasgow kebab shop. The haunting improvisations of Wajahat Khan, a virtuoso of the sarod, were taken up by the ensemble, directed by Derek Clark.

It is perhaps harder to be funny than serious in 15 minutes. Lyell Cresswell's The Perfect Woman, with words by Ron Butlin, is based on a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale about an arrogant scientist and his submissive wife. Cresswell's sense of humour could not rescue Butlin's flat phrases. Alexander McCall Smith wrote the libretto for Stephen Deazley's Dream Angus, about the dreams of a woman lying on an analyst's couch; you felt for the versatile Deazley, drawn into this cringeworthy stuff.

The productions were glossy, the performers top-class. The 15-minute opera is a problematic form, but this experiment seemed an overwhelming success.

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