‘Be a part of history’ as Wagner opera brings international stars to Saffron Hall

Professor Michael Thorne

Professor Michael Thorne - Credit: Archant

World class opera singers from across the globe will descend on Saffron Walden this month as the town’s first ever opera is hosted in Saffron Hall.

Inga-Britt Andersson

Inga-Britt Andersson - Credit: Archant

The performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the prestigious multi-million pound auditorium on Sunday, September 14 could be the catalyst to kick-start an influx of international talent on a regular basis.

That is the view of conductor and passionate Wagnerian, Professor Michael Thorne. The vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge has conducted Wagner operas in Edinburgh for the past 13 years and has built up a considerable reputation for sensitive interpretation.

In an interview with the Reporter, he said the audience had a chance to “be a part of history” by witnessing the inaugural opera in Saffron Walden.

“I started a concert like this in Edinburgh in 2001 and that has been running for 13 years now,” Professor Thorne said. “It will be fantastic if the audience who come to this are able to say ‘We were at the first opera at Saffron Hall’ when it has been going for 10, 15 or 20 years. That is what we hope.

“The Mount Everest of doing Wagner is a series of four operas called The Ring Cycle and it would be great if we could get the support to put one of each of these on over the next four years.”

He added: “You could list on your fingers the number of towns around the UK that have put on a performance of Wagner. This really is putting Saffron Walden on the international musical map. Those who come along on September 14 will be making history for Saffron Walden.”

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The concert is the debut performance put on by the new Saffron Opera Group, a production company which has brought together 17 international opera stars for the occasion with the help of international soprano Elaine McKrill.

Andrew Greenan will take on the lead role of Hans Sachs and Inga-Britt Andersson, who will be flying in specially from Germany, as Eva.

Greenan has sung with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the Royal Opera Covent Garden, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and the BBC Proms, and Andersson has performed throughout Germany including with the Mainz, Oldenburg and Gärtnerplatz State Operas.

The remainder of the cast all have well-established reputations in the opera world.

Prof Thorne said: “It’s a truly exceptional cast when you look at the names of those who will be performing.

“It will be minute after minute, hour after hour of the most beautiful and glorious music, and on top of that this rip roaring comedy ensues.”

He added: “The music of a Wagner opera takes such a long time to learn, even though I’ve conducted Wagner operas before. I’ve spent the last year working on a score which is 852 pages long, so it will be fantastic to hear it spring alive and come off the page.”

The soloists will be supported by the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and an invitation chorus of 50 singers drawn from choral societies from London to Cambridge directed by Saffron Walden’s own Janet Wheeler.

The opera itself, which is about four-and-a-half hours long and begins at 2pm, is Wagner’s only romantic comedy and is full of great tunes and amusing incident.

There will be two intervals during the performance with a full tea available in the foyer and bar area during the second.

Tickets, which range from £10-30, are available from saffronhall.com, the Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre and, subject to availability, on the door.