OPERA / House warming: Cheryomushki - Pimlico Opera

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Nobody told Shostakovich that Cheryomushki was the funniest musical before Mel Brooks' Springtime for Hitler. He felt ashamed of this late-Fifties tale of social optimism and bureaucratic corruption in a brand-new housing development (the title means Cherry Trees Estate). It was staged with big orchestra, high-profile Moscow run, film, the full works. Considering the troubles he had with his deeply considered compositions, he would have felt the irony of this glam treatment for something he wrote because he needed the work.

Thanks to the persistence of Gerard McBurney, British musician and Russophile, plus Pimlico Opera's stage vision, the duckling has turned out, not quite a swan, but a high-spirited goose. Rescored by McBurney for 1930s theatre band, it comes out sounding like the loony tunes of Ibert's Divertissement. David Pountney has smartened up the translation with a freewheeling sense of fun, while Lucy Bailey stages it as English satirical knockabout with a Russian accent, or rather all kinds of accents, since the cast settle for an array of British and colonial vernaculars.

That's about the only uncertainty in a show that keeps up a manic pace and even draws proficient comic acting from opera singers. The plot is thin - everybody, eventually, gets what they deserve - but it really doesn't matter since the music runs in a succession of short, punchy numbers that never let up.

And, in its own right, this is no bad score, packed with tunes and spiced with parodies. Conducted by Wasfi Kani, they get vigour and passion.

Whatever Shostakovich may have meant, the music's very catchiness and fluency give it heart.

Not much of that in the story, where everything is now a target for mockery, from the system that builds the estates to the people who want to live there. Characters echo, or send up, stock figures of soaps and sitcoms, with gestures from period Soviet movies. The title song is belted out, over and over, by a chorus of Fernand Leger faces striking health-and-efficiency poses in yellow and white outfits. For the estate- dwellers, Paul Andrews has designed cartoon cut-outs with holes for face and arms, and legs in shorts beneath. The high point is a singing ballet of launderette operators and engineers, after which they dash into the auditorium and spray the scent of the 'magic garden' from aerosols. In Act 3 Shostakovich gave up and just recycled what he had already written.

Probably the evening could take a few minutes' tightening; the nudge-nudge, joky trombones and trumpets sound a bit relentless by the end. Yet long stretches whizz by to an undercurrent of continuous laughter. Expect to hear consistently good singing from the likes of Ian Platt and Meurig Davies, with unexpectedly touching interludes from Brian Lipson and Anna Barkan, who gain by stepping outside the general operatic style. Sustained comic turns come from Rebecca Gale as a spanner-wielding worker, Roger Bryson and Richard Suart as comrades in corruption, and Janet Fullerlove as a wife on the make straight out of Abigail's Party.

Lyric, Hammersmith, London W6 (081-741 2311) to 29 Oct. Sponsored by National Westminster Bank

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