Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Verdi Rigoletto

12th revival of Jonathan Miller's ENOproduction

Rigoletto Anthony Michaels-Moore
Duke of Mantua Michael Fabiano
Gilda Katherine Whyte
Sparafucile Brindley Sherratt
Maddalena Madeleine Shaw

Conductor Stephen Lord
Director Jonathan Miller
Designers Patrick Robertson, Rosemary Vercoe;
Lighting Designer Robert Bryan
Choreographer Tommy Shaw
Translation James Fenton

The Coliseum, London
21 September 2009

Long celebrated as "iconic", this production set in 1950s New York has been an ENO staple decades since its reception in 1982, and once again voices are raised to assure us that it's
"as enthralling as ever" [Evening Standard]. But can an icon tarnish?

Although rehearsed by Jonathan Miller himself, great deal of detail, especially in management of the large chorus, seems tired and formulaic now; huge suspensions of belief are demanded, and on the first night were generously given by a sell-out audience, determined to have a good time.

Moving the heavy sets requires two intervals, no longer fashionable (but Zefirelli's at Covent Garden, 1963, needed one after the brief first scene).

The programme book (now £5 - so many forgo its insights) has many essays; a rather defensive note on the placing of his production by Miller; a really valuable analysis by Roger Parker of Verdi's ground breaking experimentation with his protagonists - Gilda developing from "old fashioned soprano" to a more direct, declamatory style; the Duke an anti-hero with all the best tunes; Rigoletto's part eschewing conventional arias; all consolidated in the layers of vocal differences in the extraordinary Quartet.

To our ears and eyes (* from Dress Circle seats, where the orchestra comes up loud and direct) the solid baritone Michaels-Moore's was very serviceable, his singing reliable in all registers and his voice filled the huge space; but he was not an Opie and, with a minimal suggestion of his 'hump', nothing of a jester.**

Fabiano's Duke sang loud but his voice coarsened at the top - bel canto against character is the essence of his part.

The Canadian Gilda was frankly weak and never moving, not even dying in the sack; Sherratt was reliable again as the hit-man with eyes firmly on the money; Madeleine Shaw chattered away to little effect. The storm (with a strobe lighting warning, and a few leaves blown across the stage) was not up to 21st C expectations...

I think we'll give the 13th revival a miss, and look forward to a version which, maybe, takes us back to the world of Victor Hugo, to refresh a fading icon.


*I am wondering whether critics oughtn't to identify where they are seated regularly? Our experience of this 13th airing of Miller's Rigoletto was clearly different from that of other opera reviewers, e.g. 'Katherine Whyte's "Caro nome" seemed underpowered and found difficulty projecting across the orchestra' [Opera Brittania].
She seemed unready for a large house and had no chance to get her singing up to the Coliseum Circles...

** For THE Rigoletto, treat yourself to half a hour with Leo Nucci on YouTube from Zurich, Parma, Milan, Tokyo... We saw him at Zurich but seem not to have reviewed it.

Rigoletto at The Coliseum

ENO 1 March 2006

The current revival of this production has been well covered in the press. ENO's recent vicissitudes 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 [pictured] 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.

Auty 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?

Peter Grahame Woolf

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.)

© Peter Grahame Woolf