Die Zauberflöte was chosen as the final show in the academic year at Opera School in Glasgow. With its well-known music, it can sound deceptively easy, but in fact it is a really tricky opera to pull off successfully. At this opera, even before you sit down, the questions begin, particularly in a student production: will the Queen of the Night manage her fiendishly difficult arias? Will Sarastro get to his bottom growly low Fs? And what will the director do this time? For this opera attracts more than its fair share of zany interpretations.

The music begins. A schoolboy boy returning home in traditional blazer, cap and shorts is passed by two giggling schoolgirls and meaningful looks are exchanged. Meanwhile, a grown man chats up one of the girls, and entices her away after engaging her interest by producing a small bird from his pocket. The remaining schoolgirl plays with a yo-yo while eyeing up the first boy, who clocks her then enters his home where his mother is preparing supper for the family. The father in a suit and bowler hat returns from work in a grump: there is an argument, and the boy escapes to his bedroom and so to bed. Director William Relton used the overture to introduce the concept for this production, set as Tamino’s dream, allowing the strangeness of Die Zauberflöte to be highlighted, because whichever way you look at it, it is a fabulously odd story.

Thus, the characters were the imaginings of a schoolboy and drawn from his everyday life: three ladies gathering round the sleeping Tamino were dressed in pink floral 1950s dresses with pink shoes and pink rubber gloves. Three boys were cub scouts, Monostatos and his gang were chimney sweeps, and Sarastro and all his court were suited and hatted like the Father in the opening vignette. The Mother ended up as the Queen of the Night, and the leery man with the bird was of course, Papageno.

This opera is the story of Tamino’s ritual passage to win the hand of Pamina, aided by the down-to-earth birdcatcher Papageno. Tamino is given a magic flute, and Papageno a toy glockenspiel, to help them out of the tricky situations they encounter on the journey.

Getting the music right is the essence of Die Zauberflöte, and here the singing was very fine indeed across the board. With some parts double-cast, at this performance Brazilian tenor Emanoel Velozo as the serious Tamino was wonderfully offset by the boisterous and playful Andrew McTaggart as Papageno, who turned in a bravura performance of his aria ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’. Kim Lillian Strebel, singing in her native German, was a particularly lovely Pamina, rich in tone and a voice to watch out for in the future. Andrew Tipple’s Sarastro was tender and menacing as needed but carried gravitas to bring authority as leader of the brotherhood. Barbara Cole Walton was a star turn as the Queen of the Night, managing to get round those so-high top Fs. Elsewhere, the Three Ladies and the Three Boys produced nicely blended singing, and the chorus were strongly supportive of the action. The orchestra, conducted by Head of Opera Timothy Dean, played their hearts out, full of attention to period detail and phrasing.

I loved the oddities and humour in this production: Tamino, Papageno and even the bird pinned permanently to Papageno’s shoulder had brown paper grocery bags pulled over their heads; the brotherhood lined up diagonally across the stage and pulled out tobacco pipes which they puffed on for the trial by fire, and drank from glasses for the trial by water. Designer Cordelia Chilholm’s simple set on a centrally raked platform was effective, and floating doors added to the dream-like quality.

It was the very end, which was not happy-ever-after, that was particularly interesting. Sarastro throttled the Queen of the Night in front of us and left her body lying on stage just as the ‘happy couple’ emerged from the temple dressed in wedding finery. Pamina was distraught on discovering the corpse, and in the final bars of the opera, as the Brotherhood sang praises to the Gods, the couple responded by violently discarding their fine attire for ordinary workaday clothing with check shirts as worn by Papeneno (and Papagena). As the curtain fell, Tamino was being tucked into his own single bed by Pamina. Dream over.

This was a particularly enjoyable production to end the year at the Conservatoire. Die Zauberflöte is also being performed across the road at Theatre Royal by Scottish Opera in the autumn, so it will be interesting to compare and contrast.