This concert performance, part of the new opera group’s Ring Cycle, made the lack of any theatrical setting cease to matter with a strong cast and sure-footed conductor Michael Thorne.
Saffron Hall opened in 2013, offering a space with first-rate acoustics that seemed tailor-made
for opera. Saffron Opera Group was formed the same year, and signalled the extent of its ambitions from its first show, a concert performance of Die Meistersinger, no less. That was followed by Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, and then by more Wagner – not just any Wagner, but the start of a concert Ring. Das Rheingold and Die Walküre were performed last year; after this Siegfried, the cycle will be completed in the autumn with Götterdämmerung.
The performances under Michael Thorne combine a largely amateur orchestra with a professional cast of singers. In Siegfried, seasoned Wagnerians – Peter Bronder as Mime, Andrew Greenan as the Wanderer, Nicholas Folwell as Alberich and Elaine McKrill as Brünnhilde – were alongside those nearer the start of their careers: Jonathan Stoughton as the ardent, fresh toned and promisingly tireless Siegfried; Donald Thomson the suitably fathomless Fafner. The BBC Radio 2 young chorister of the year, Agatha Pethers, who comes from Saffron Walden, made an interesting choice as the Woodbird too, wonderfully secure and confident.
Thorne’s conducting was sure-footed and purposeful, and the orchestra had been meticulously prepared; there were a few shaky moments, but the general standard of the playing was high. And as ever when hearing Wagner in the concert hall, there were things to discover and to delight in, as well as those moments when the whole performance seemed to transcend itself, and the lack of any theatrical setting ceased to matter. Here, the most spellbinding of those moments came at the beginning of the third act, with the confrontation between Hilary Summers’ regal Erda and Greenan’s Wanderer – an irresistible moral force meeting an immovable object. It is moments like these that make ventures like Saffron Opera’s so worthwhile.