Those three stars are a midway compromise: Scottish Opera's new Figaro is great on stage, shoddy in the pit. Maybe the dichotomy's apt for an opera about the foibles of above/below stairs relations – certainly conductor Francesco Corti seemed happy for singers and orchestra to have little to do with each other. But it's a shame. Sir Thomas Allen, one of Britain's great baritones and here back in the director's chair following his Barber of Seville for Scottish Opera in 2007, has created a classy drama with uncluttered, unpretentious storytelling.
Allen is a singer's director; he knows the score inside out having performed both male leads himself, and presumably manages his cast how he would want to be managed, imposing nothing fancy, and trusting them to get on with some decent singing and acting, which they do accordingly. Genuine comic timing earned genuine laughs on Friday's opening night, with artful performances from Thomas Oliemans as Figaro, Roderick Williams as the Count and Kate Valentine as a particularly noble Countess. Susanna is played by Nadine Livingston, one of Scottish Opera's Emerging Artists and a fine advert for the scheme. Her stage presence is solid and her voice, if still a little shrill in ensembles and lacking in Valentine's nuances, can easily handle the role.
The production looks gorgeous in Simon Higlett's sets. During the overture we see a happy 18th-century farm scene – hay bushels in soft gold light, girls in bonnets, boys in broad-brimmed hats, some wholesome peasant hanky-panky in a corner. The bushels return as act four's night-time garden, now swirled in mist and watched over by twinkling stars on strings and a huge harvest moon. The effect is magical.
Meanwhile, sadly, Corti uses his baton for bulldozer tactics, flattening tempo changes and hurtling past moments where the singers clearly wanted or needed more time. Phrasing sounded clumsy, flaccid and at times downright ugly. Most awkward were the silences – or rather lack of them, as Mozart's all-important rhetorical pauses were fudged to the point that things came unstuck.
The orchestra, easily visibly in the Theatre Royal's wide pit, looked almost as bored as they sounded. Considering the tribulations they have gone through recently (they were forced to accept part-time contracts in September) you would think they would be pleased to be playing at all. Still, this is Scottish Opera's only main-stage production of the autumn, and it's well worth seizing the opportunity. Just keep your eyes and ears on the stage.