This three-hour concert version of Mozart’s most famous opera, and arguably the finest opera ever written, is Cambridge Operatic Society’s second adventure into the world of 'proper' opera and follows hard on the heels of last year's The Magic Flute. And if anything it's even better. Sit back and enjoy this crazy tale of Eighteenth Century servants outwitting their aristocratic employers and establishing their equality through music.
Mozart provides three hours of showstoppers. CaOS's cast of eleven soloists plus an auditioned chorus of ten and a fourteen strong band do the rest – with aplomb. Emmanuel United Reform Church in Cambridge is a warm resonant venue and the show is also touring to Ely for one performance at St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalene Church, Fordham.
Soloists sit at the front in a semi-circle with orchestra behind and choir at the back. Not that 'concert version' means simply taking it in turns to stand up and sing arias. Far from it. Each soloist is also an actor and, with a few props, they bring the narrative alive. It is a brave, but very successful decision to speak rather than sing the recitative in a (very) modern, loose witty translation (by Lucas Elkin, who directs both music and action) but it makes the story telling clearer than I've ever heard it as well as bringing out the humour. The rest of Mozart's text is sung in a 1937 translation by Edward J. Dent.
Camilla Francesca Bull is riveting in the 'trouser role', the lovesick Cherubino. Her rich soprano voice is immaculately controlled and she is a totally convincing actor with her intense dark eyes. Daniel Fong's bass Figaro is authoritative and compelling. You can see exactly why the lively Susanna (excellent work from Shiona Cormack) was never going to have anyone else. MurphyKate Montee is a rich-voiced, impressive countess and her third act aria is one of the best renderings I've ever heard. Matt Tilley is quite sinister as the predatory, lascivious as the light-voiced baritone Count.
This show also includes some delightful ensemble work especially the hilarious sextet in Act III when Figaro discovers his true – absurdly unlikely – real parentage. And behind it all is crisp playing from the band under Lucas Elkin who holds it all together barring one or two infelicitous moments when soloists (who can’t actually see him) don’t quite agree on tempo for a bar or two.
The sheer energy, exuberance and quality of this production is outstanding. Roll on Oklahoma!, CaOS's next show in November when the mood will be rather different. Versatility is probably one of the hallmarks of a good company.