Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi
English National Opera
The Coliseum
(2009)

Production photo

Jonathan Miller's classic 1982 production of Verdi's melodrama of vengeance fulfilled, Rigoletto, returned to the Coliseum this week to the delight of English National Opera audiences, especially those like myself who saw only a small screen glimpse of the original 20 years ago. A far cry this from the beloved La Fenice, Venice, where the first performance was given in 1851.

A dozen times Miller has revived this translation of Verdi's original from Italian renaissance to New York's "Little Italy" of the 1950s and with the director himself sitting four seats away, a paternal watch on this treasure was assured.

Miller has already long destroyed the argument that the 1950's were anachronism to Verdi with his rejoinder that the 16th century, in which the opera is originally set, was hardly more familiar to one writing in the 19th.

That said however, there are aspects of this Rigoletto which sit a little uncomfortably in the updated context.

The Duke, for example - here a fine performance from the tenor Michael Fabiano making his role and UK debut - loses some of his intrinsic heroic style in the shabby shirt and mufti of gangland.

No lack of style or charisma, however, in his brilliant singing as we rejoice at the ringing tone of his "Questa o Quella" and, later, the evergreen "La Donna è mobile", arguably the most famous aria in opera.

And there is for me a certain loss of character about the central figure, Rigoletto himself who, shorn of the distinctive garb of his trade - jester - tends to melt into the throng, thus forfeiting something of his essential pathos.

Yet these are small, even trivial prices to pay for what is undeniably a dramatic and visual restatement, in modern terms, of the power of this work.

The central plot of Gilda's kidnapping, desertion and dreadful death is infinitely more real and closer to our own times than hitherto.

In this account too, Gilda is a warm, believable girl-next door from the young Canadian Katherine Whyte who, for all her youthful charm, possesses already a formidable CV.

Her "Caro Nome" is so finely delivered with a truly tender touch of coloratura at the climax.

In the title role, Verdi baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore, first Briton to win the Pavarotti Competition, gives a magnificent display of vocal histrionics, now weepingly tender, then fiercely angry. His duets with Gilda are memorable while his bitterness in the final scene leading to the fulfilment of Monterone's curse is superb.

The orchestra is conducted with a nice deference to the dramatic score by Stephen Lord, Music Director of the Opera Theatre of St Louis, and there is some truly stirring tutti work from the excellent mens' chorus.

Designers Patrick Robertson and Rosemary Vercoe restore for us the palatial bar of Act I, the dead-end street of Rigoletto's home and the shabby riverside café which lends itself so admirably to the famous Act III quartet.

Jonathan Miller's production of "Rigoletto" is staged at the London Coliseum on Saturday 26th September, Friday 2nd, Wednesday 7th, Saturday 10th, Thursday 15th, Saturday 17th, Tuesday 20th, and Friday 23rd October.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole