Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Rigoletto @ Coliseum, London

21, 26 September, 2, 7, 10, 15, 17, 20, 23 October 2009

Coliseum, London

Coliseum, London (Photo: Grant Smith/ENO)

Although now almost 27 years old, Jonathan Miller’s venerable production of Rigoletto resolutely refuses to show its age. On hand to direct this twelfth revival himself, Miller’s deft touches result in a theatrically rewarding and engrossing performance. Indeed with such an excellent cast, this is one of the finest performances of Rigoletto that London has seen in quite a while.

New in 1982, Jonathan Miller’s updating of Rigoletto transplants the story from the Court of Mantua to New York’s Little Italy in the 1950s. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And it works brilliantly. Having Miller back in charge of the staging was a major plus point as the personenregie was razor-sharp, which allowed him to draw compelling performances from all the principals who this time round were exceptionally strong. Indeed having seen this production more times than I care to remember, one would have to dredge some pretty distant memories to recall a revival as strongly cast as it was here.

Anthony Michaels-Moore hasn’t been seen on the Coliseum stage in nearly ten years, which is nothing short of scandalous, so his first UK appearance as Rigoletto was eagerly anticipated and he did not disappoint. He was firing on all cylinders and managed to make the character repulsive and sympathetic in equal measure, which is no easy feat, and provided an object lesson in how to really sing Verdi and his diction, like most of the cast, was faultless. One of the evening’s unbridled pleasures was hearing a proper Verdi baritone in full flood, which had no problem filling the cavernous spaces of the Coliseum. He’s certainly the finest exponent of the role to be heard in London in years and it whets the appetite for his take on Scarpia in Tosca later this season.

Making his UK debut in the role of the Duke was up-and-coming American tenor Michael Fabiano. Unlike some of his predecessors in the role he certainly looks the part and he sings with an uninhibited ardour that signals that he has a burgeoning international career ahead of him. Not only did he brilliantly capture the insouciance of the character, but he also has all the vocal armoury that Verdi requires at his disposal as well. Full-voiced, thrilling and most importantly always musical, this was a winning performance.

Similarly his compatriot Katherine Whyte also made an auspicious house debut in the role of Gilda. No milksop she, but a fiery determined young woman whose final sacrifice for once seems wholly in character. Her soprano may be a shade on the small side for the Coliseum but she rode the ensembles with thrilling tone, yet was able to deliver a meltingly lovely account of ‘Caro nome’.

Brindley Sherratt was a menacing Sparafucile, whilst Madeleine Shaw made her mark as a sultry-toned Maddalena. In the pit Stephen Lord conducted a blood and guts reading of the score and although he took many passages at quite a lick, it was viscerally exciting in a way that Semyon Bychkov’s conducting of Don Carlos up the road was not, and the orchestra played their hearts out. And at the end, joy of joys, there were even proper curtain calls, so bravos all round.

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