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Verdi Rigoletto
at The Coliseum, 1 March 2006

The current revival of this production has been well covered in the press. ENO's recent vicissitutes have contributed to an interesting opportunity during this season, to revaluate and enjoy the work of two great directors, two of Nicholas Hytner’s productions head on (Magic Flute & Xerxes) and now 2 of Jonathan Miller’s side by side! Rigoletto last night prompted some personal recollections.

I first encountered Alan Opie as a very personable young student singer in Albert Herring at the (old) Guildhall School. The conductor was Vilem Tausky, Director of Opera for some twenty years, and the small boy Harry was my son, treble Simon Woolf. He is now in full flower of mature voice and stagecraft as Rigoletto – " a superb all-round performance in this role – it lies just right for his voice and he has the look, the limp, the presence … what more could you want – on a par with any Rigoletto I’ve seen, including La Scala" [Serena Fenwick].

Dominated all the scenes in which he appears Alan Opie did indeed, but Peter Auty, a young tenor and notable former boy soprano (hear him on the dedicated Tadpole Music label's website) was by no means outclassed. He acted fully in character as Miller's predatory underworld Mafia "Duke" (some echos of Don Giovanni) and his robust tenor had a secure ringing tone which helped him to encompass all that the role demanded. I found Judith Howarth's Gilda a little pale by comparison, but she died very beautifully.

Suspension of disbelief and acceptance of the conventions in a modern realisation of the opera were a little difficult for us in the crowd scenes but, after the gang left them alone, the intimacies of father and daughter in the deserted hotel bar were moving, as was the whole of Act 4. The famous quartet was the a high spot of the whole evening, with the sinister dark bass of Brindley Sherratt's Sparafucile, and Leah-Marian Jones's seductive Maddalena contributing to a memorable ending of the evening.

The Coliseum was far from full; this was the one evening during the run when the sur-titles were switched off to placate the diehards who long resisted their introduction. Was the ENO public voting by avoiding that performance?

See the comments of Dominic McHugh (musicOMH.com) - "When many of today's most popular operas were originally written, lights were provided throughout the theatre and audiences were given the libretti as a matter of course - - it is pretentious to suggest that sitting through an opera without understanding a word of it is virtuous or traditional - - the audience for this Rigoletto was noticeably more engaged with the story thanks to the provision of surtitles".

(The English translation of Rigoletto and other favourites are conveniently accessible at http://www.impresario.ch/libretto/libverrig_e.htm.)

Alan Opie as Rigoletto (Photo: Neil Libbert, c ENO)

© Peter Grahame Woolf