Opera review: Scottish Opera Five:15

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Scottish Opera Five:15**** Traverse Theatre Edinburgh

WHAT is it that makes composers (and librettists) of opera go for woe and angst?

Looking at the statistics of last night's feast of five new mini-operas – Scottish Opera's latest Five:15 commissions – only one work had us shaking with laughter. The rest were more about much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The breath of fresh air was a delightful satire on the recent tumbling of the economy, The Money Man, by Edinburgh-based duo Ron Butlin and Lyell Cresswell. Cresswell's brilliantly crafted score underpins Butlin's quickfire text with near-literal precision. Martin Lamb as the bullish, sharp-suited money man is a tour de force. This was an abridged version of a larger piece, which ought to be staged as soon as possible.

But Five:15 is more than one work. And there was an element of unity encompassing Thursday night's five performances created by the commonality of set and a core vocal cast that shared roles.

Miriama Young's Zen Story, to words by Alan Spence, is spacious and pungent, with a gaunt simplicity that echoes Stravinsky. Nick Fell's Sublimation, to a text by Glasgow writer Zoe Strachan, feeds on an electronic undercurrent that serves as an ominous undercurrent to the heroine's disturbed mind.

74 Degrees North is a unique double act, which represents a grafting of Paul Mealor's acoustic score on to Peter Stollery's electronic score. It works reasonably well as a spooky backdrop to Peter Davidson's Arctic ghost story. The most conservative writing comes in Vitaly Khodosh's The Letter, where Jewish melancholia vies with the bittersweet irony of neo-Shostakovich. Not much to laugh about, maybe, but plenty of fine musical touches under the sure-footed musical direction of Derek Clark.

&#149 A version of this appeared in some editions yesterday.