Rigoletto, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2017

Now that Christopher Alden’s stale and pretentious North American production has been aborted after a single run, we are back with Jonathan Miller’s gangland setting, looking as fresh as ever. Wonderful. This superb production well matches the tragedy that unfolds in what became a turning point in Verdi’s operatic career.

Gilda and the Duke in Act I, all images ENO/ Alastair Muir

Before its premiere in Venice in 1851 Verdi withheld the tune to the Duke’s famous La donna è mobile until the day of the performance to avoid its becoming common currency among the gondoliers. He knew he had a hit of his hands, and Los Angeles newcomer Joshua Guerrero sang the Duke’s role with real hedonistic flourish. Before meeting Rigoletto’s precious daughter Gilda in Act I for what became a terrific duet he pulls out a comb to swish back his Elvis Presley-style hair — a teflon-coated gangster of effortless narcissism. As Gilda herself, American soprano Sydney Mancasola sang like a nightingale in her soliloquy on the Duke’s assumed name, and increased the depth of her characterisation as she developed radiant power in the Act III quartet with her father Rigoletto and the demi-monde of Barnaby Rea’s shadowy, dark-toned Sparafucile and Madeleine Shaw’s gentle Maddalena.

Rigoletto and Monterone

As Rigoletto, Nicholas Pallesen’s lyrical baritone showed huge concern for his daughter, and admirable stamina in this hugely demanding role but he has yet to develop the required pathos, and walked with the shambling gait of a loser rather than the spine that this deformed jester must show his enemies. Supporting roles were well sung, with Nicholas Folwell a defiant Monterone carrying a great weight of fury, and Ceprano (Andrí Björn Róbertsson) and his wife (Joanne Appleby) fitting well with the glittering company that starts Act I. Terrific performance too by the chorus here, and throughout.

Duke and Maddalena

This production may be an old one — this is its thirteenth revival — but it is well cared for, and Kevin Sleep’s revival of the lighting is superb. The shadows in which Sparafucile meets Rigoletto are beautifully created.

Father and daughter

Conducting by Richard Armstrong hewed to the original score without interpolated high notes, rather than traditions that have built up over time. Yet the orchestra rose to the occasion with wonderful playing, and for the early jollifications I loved seeing part of the string section as the on-stage Gualtier Maldè band, precisely the pseudonym the Duke uses to Gilda when he meets her — a nice touch.

Such a pleasure to have Jonathan Miller’s production reinstated, and when the great man appeared on stage at the end with revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall he was given a standing ovation.

Performances continue on various dates until February 28 — for details click here.

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