The Magic Fluteis a strange opera about trials and freemasonry with borrowings from fairy tales and elements of pantomime – written in 1791, when Mozart and Emanuel Schikanader who commissioned it were, it is assumed, both desperate for a coffer-filling box office hit. So they made sure it included something for everyone.
And the advantage of doing it today in an abridged (to two and a half hours including interval) concert version – with seventeen piece band – plus narrator as Cambridge Operatic Society (CAOS) does is that all the focus is on the glorious music. Although, of course, no actor/singer worth his or her salt and performing with conviction can do these numbers without acting and there are some spirited interpretations especially from Gavin Jarvis as the menacing Monostatos whose intentions toward Pamina (Anna Murgatroyd) are less than honourable.
Most of the solo work is at professional standard. Murgatroyd, an intensely musical performer, brings all the right innocence tempered with troubled intensity to Pamina and Julian Ochwat’s lyrical, highly accomplished Tamino matches her perfectly. And I was especially impressed by Simon Wilson who plays Papageno with immaculate singing and lightness of touch – and he even plays his own pan pipes which I’ve never seen done before. It is usually mimed. Wilson’s duet work with Murgatroyd is impressive as is his final ‘happy ending’ duet with Hazel Neighbour who plays the sparkly-eyed Papagena – another outstanding singer who waits a long time for what, in this cut version, is her only number.
Among other strengths are Shiona Cormack who tackles those punishing Queen of the Night soprano showpiece arias with aplomb and brings them off with panache and Richard Tannenbaum who gives us a suitably basso profundo Sarastro and oozes gravitas. The three ladies – Rebecca Moulton, Caroline Dyson and Jessica Lawrence-Hares – are a talented trio whose sound is pleasingly modulated.
And all this is skilfully controlled by purple-waistcoated Lucas Elkin on the podium at the front. Although the rather wooden chorus does slide away from him once or twice he continuously coaxes outstanding music from the band and most of the singers most of the time. And it sounds terrific.
Cambridge Operatic Society has been performing Musical Theatre since 1910 – South Pacific is coming up next at Cambridge Arts Theatre in November. Apart from Carmen in 1976,1987 and 1995, this seems to be the company’s first foray into opera and certainly its first stab at Mozart. I trust this show marks the beginning of a new tradition.