Opera: Cosi fan tutte

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Scottish Opera appear to be on to a winner with Stewart Laing's new production of Cosi fan tutte. It is fresh, pretty, funny, clever. With a minimal set that looks like the lobby of some faceless international hotel, and the singers in modern dress, the whole thing looks like some frothy sitcom (the designer is Aldona Cunningham), especially when the wedding guests arrive with a dishwasher, a washing machine and a microwave as presents.

Probably, however, there will be a snag. The humour relies solidly on the comic talents of Peter Mattei as Guglielmo and Iain Paton as Ferrando. Bill and Ferdy, the two stooges. Laing is a real hands-on producer, and his young cast work hard to realise his vision of a sparkling light comedy. But without Mattei and Paton, the sets and costumes may as well be thrown away.

Mattei, in particular, is a great lanky thing with limbs made of rubber. He appeared first in football kit; when at last the men turned into "Albanians" (looking more like Italian hairdressers) his attempts to win Dorabella, sung adoringly to a mirror, were so funny that the laughter scored by Mozart broke out into the real thing and spread right through the audience.

Paton was an excellent foil for this, and he added some of the best singing of the evening; "Un' aura amorosa" was sweet and simple and sincere, with the ease and confidence most of the rest lacked. In fact the excellent Claire Rutter, whose Fiordiligi coasted on half throttle for most of the evening, came into her own in the duet with Paton in Act 2.

Clearly Rutter needed the encouragement of an effective partner, for Michelle Walton, as Dorabella, though she did her best to suggest a scatty little number, was crowded by Laing's complicated business. She never settled into the vocal lines; her resinous tone was effective only in the middle register. It was a good idea to have her splashing about in the garden pond - just the sort of thing that happens at hooray-henry parties - but she never seemed fully at home in this production.

Laing has done a great job, however, with Lisa Milne as Despina. This able singer is sometimes tempted to turn comedy into farce; here, she was rapid, glittery, stylish. The scene of mesmerism was one of the funniest operatic experiences of the decade. Donald Maxwell, predictably, was a benign and commanding Alfonso.

With all the goings-on on stage, Nicholas McGegan never fully achieved fluency in the pit; this elegant, thoughtful conductor needs plenty of independent space to achieve colour and poise, and you heard him waiting for moments of comic timing and cosseting his singers needlessly. The orchestra, too, sounded stale.

Still, these are the kinds of problems that will be sorted as the run progresses. Get to see this Cosi, if you can; it's hard to imagine it being revived.

Raymond Monelle

In rep to 19 Feb, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (0141-332 9000), then 24, 26 & 28 Feb, Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131-529 6000) and 3 March, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness (01463 221718).