A week may be a long time in politics, but in the theatre it's called a rehearsal period. Such are the economic necessities of conveyor-belt culture. But what about the big wide world of opera, with its puffed-up displays of pomp and very little apparent circumstance? They're rolling in it, aren't they? What, with all those opulent cossies and budget-busting orchestras and choirs, small wonder anything else gets a look in.

Not so with Voiceover, a double bill of bite-size contemporary chamber operas commissioned and performed by the Paragon Ensemble, who play in Glasgow and Edinburgh this week. For, as singers go through their paces amid the clutter of a makeshift set, the clock ticks on towards teatime, and the chances of Ikea delivering the real thing before the day is done look increasingly unlikely.

Director Graham Eatough is clearly feeling the strain as he takes some precious time out from rehearsals. Mornings and afternoons are spent rehearsing with actors and piano only, while, as with vampires and false teeth, the full Paragon quintet only comes out at night. ''It's quite demanding,'' he admits, ''but sometimes packing everything into a really short space of time can work in your favour and give everything a real freshness. Everything here's been pulled together really quickly.''

Voiceover is the fruit of Eatough's Creative Scotland award, which he was given on the strength of his work as artistic director of Suspect Culture, whose pan-European outlook and collaborative working methods are streets ahead of the majority of theatre companies in Britain. Indeed, what might seem an odd sideways leap is actually more logical than it might appear. ''In a way,'' Eatough says, ''this is a continuation of the work I've already done with Suspect Culture. I've always been interested in working with music on stage, and in opera everything's so much bigger in terms of acting styles, and that relates to some of the things we try to do with formalising movement and gesture.''

Nowhere was this more evident than in Timeless, Suspect Culture's David Greig-scripted contribution to 1997's Edinburgh Festival. This featured four actors singing little epiphanies set to Nick Powell's score, played live by a string quartet.

Eatough initially received his

Creative Scotland award for research purposes, with no performances planned. But, for a practitioner used to initiating action, observational research can only go so far. Being backstage at Scottish Opera, as well as in more exotic climes, simply was not enough to quell creative urges.

Eatough and musical director John Harris paired together two teams of composers. The results, The Adding Machine, composed by David Fennessy with a libretto by playwright Tom McGrath, and Gordon McPherson and Tracey Herd's Descent, are strikingly different. With a combined duration of just more than an hour, neither do they outstay their welcome.

''We were looking to find reasons why the words here should be sung and not spoken,'' Eatough reveals, ''and though we didn't give either of the teams a brief, it's interesting that they've both, in very different ways, leant towards elements of fantasy, which justifies the singing.''

He adds: ''The one big thing about opera is that it isn't naturalistic. It's larger than life. I hate using the phrase experimental, but this does feel genuinely experimental.''

Even so, for many, opera remains the ultimate highbrow taboo, an effete freakshow populated by pneumatically proportioned divas and buttoned-up blimps, expounding their lusty arias with blood-vessel popping abandon. It's a prejudice propped up, too, on grounds of class, in this country at least.

This goes some way to explain the relative rareness in this country of directors with a foot in both camps. The Citizens' Theatre's Giles Havergal makes occasional excursions into opera, while only David McVicar, formerly of home-grown firebrands Pen Name, has made a big splash in that world. Significantly, both parties have had to go elsewhere to do so.

Compare this with the two-way traffic between forms spearheaded by the giants of European and world theatre. A glance at this year's Edinburgh Festival opera programme reveals no fewer than three leaders of the international stage who've previously appeared on the drama pages. Of course, Eatough and the Paragon are picking up the baton from an exercise pioneered by the Edinburgh Festival, when playwrights Iain Heggie and John Clifford were paired with the composers James MacMillan and Craig Armstrong for two operettas.

John Clifford's play, Ines De Castro, has been adapted into opera, while, more recently, novelist Janice Galloway collaborated with composer Sally Beamish on Monster.

Such is the relative scarcity of output here that you get the sense that Eatough is decoding the two halves of Voiceover as he goes along, not so much flying blind as feeling his way into a form he's yet to master.

Which brings us back to

conveyor-belt rep, trying to create the world in a week that comes complete with a day off, and that lost, flat-pack-heavy Ikea van, which has hopefully turned up by now.

There are signs, however, that such stifling artistic compartmentalisation, like those flat-packs, is being broken down, and Voiceover plays a tiny but crucial part in that process. One day, perhaps, Suspect Culture, or whoever, might be able to produce a boundary-blurring opera without eyebrows being raised at the perceived audacity of the exercise. The company is already going some way towards realising that with its next project, which will again utilise a live score, played by Nick Powell and company associate Lucy Wilkins.

Eatough uses the word ''connectivity'' for what he and the Paragon are setting out to achieve with Voiceover. It's a funny, ever so slightly skew-whiff word, that neither of us can confirm exists or not. After Voiceover, however, it just might.

Voiceover, CCA, Glasgow,

tomorrow and Thursday;

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,

Friday and Saturday.