Someone at Saffron Opera has got their ear to the ground for mainly young singers, and you may well wonder how much rehearsal time the company had to present this cogent and sharply characterised one-off concert performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The amateur/professional non-period orchestra responded fluently to Michael Thorne’s conducting, releasing a measured, sinister reading of the overture, and he kept up momentum and pressure for the opera’s action-packed first act. The pace slackened a bit during the aria queue before the second act finale, which was delivered with hellish bravado – the impact secured by the Commendatore and a trio of trombones performing from the hall’s gallery – and then blown away by the brilliantly sung closing sequence of ensembles.
All the cast seemed to refer to their scores rather than cling to them, and there was more than enough interaction to animate things, especially so in the case of Charles Rice’s Don Giovanni and Nicholas Crawley’s Leporello. They shared an agreeable, blokish rapport that could suddenly curdle into spiky master-servant entitlement. It was done with the sort of light touch that implied a director, although none was listed, and both neatly set up their neutral morality with bracing cynicism. Rice’s conversational, elegant singing matched words and music in great style, his descent was an abandoned conflation of volume and ink-black tone, and lived up to his reputation in an ultra-seductive Là ci darem la mano. This looks like his role debut, and it was very accomplished. Crawley’s baritone is a fraction lighter, and his Leporello was engaging and insinuating throughout, including a casually waspish Catalogue aria and a very funny impersonation of the Don in Act 2. Bringing tenor relief. William Morgan made Don Ottavio less supine and reactive than is often the case and he sung both arias with impressive lyricism and urgency, with a lovely result in his lightly virile Il mio Tesoro.
Charlie Drummond made Donna Anna both regal and vulnerable, her voice had an edge and power that suited her duos with Ottavio, and she delivered a spell-binding, flawless Non mi dir. For presence and style she was well matched with Alexandra Lowe’s formidable Donna Elvira, here a tour de force of bitterness. Sometimes her voice sounded like a baroque trumpet, then she softened it into the most malleable, expressive instrument. Not surprisingly, Mi tradi was a showstopper. Natalie Montakhab created a charming and saucy Zerlina, especially when weighing up her options with Giovanni. There was the occasional ensemble slip, largely because the conductor was not quite in eye-reach. Frederick Long was her personable, affectionate and finely sung Masetto, and their double-act was a winning combination. As the Commendatore, Julian Close used his huge bass to bring matters to a head and Don Giovanni to his just reward, and was spectacular. Saffron Opera clearly has form when it comes to concert performances on the cusp of stagings.