Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Rigoletto @ Coliseum, London

7, 10, 14, 20, 22, 26 February, 4, 6, 8, 11, 14 March 2003

Coliseum, London

Coliseum, London (Photo: Grant Smith)

If you are a devotee of the National Enquirer or Sunday Sport you may take Rigoletto in your stride, but this sordid and bloodthirsty tale is at best an improbable and at worst a macabre silliness – like a PT Barnum take on Hamlet, all gravediggers and cheap laughs (the heroine sings her dying words from a body bag). When the typical production isn’t set appropriately in Macchiavellian Italy, the opera is often seen as a Halloween Party that goes desperately wrong. The dysfunctional story merits an equally dysfunctional staging.

And there isn’t much opera that focuses on the father-daughter relationship so effectively as to affect the viewer – aside from Wotan’s farewell to Brunhilde. Two things make this revival at ENO special: the coherent production and the sensitive singing of Alan Opie as Rigoletto. Bonaventura Bottone is icing on the cake.

It is hard to believe that Jonathan Miller’s production is over twenty years old. Those of us who, for preference, might give Rigoletto a miss have faithfully supported each revival (often advertised as the last). Luckily there’s somebody in ENO’s management team who has the sense not to throw out this thoughtful and coherent staging, which is as scintillating today as it was in 1982.

So much attention to detail has been lavished on the Art Deco Hotel Bar – full marks to the revival director John La Bouchardiere – as well as the other sets. Jonathan Miller advanced the opera to the 1950s: the poster for From Here to Eternity on the wall in the bar in the last act gives us a terminus a quo of 1953. And he has made sense of the story by setting it in the squalid world of the New York Mafia. Indeed, the bar setting of the last act, based on an Edward Hopper vision of alienation and loneliness, perfectly suits the final morbid twist of the plot.

Alan Opie is a stalwart of ENO. He has rarely been in better form – and his form is always good. His Rigoletto was most believable: he helped the viewer overcome the basic improbability of the story. The indisposition of Rhys Meirion on the first night was disappointing, but his replacement at short notice by Bonaventura Bottone rightly drew applause. He was returning to the role of the Duke that he had sung many times, and he was on particularly fine form. His protestation of love for Gilda – and his observation that perhaps he was changing – was so persuasive that the audience must have been just as convinced as the heroine of the sincerity of his love for her. Most Dukes don’t even attempt to fathom this complex of emotions; consequently, Gilda’s action at the end usually makes no sense.

The diction of Rigoletto and the Duke was excellent. Sadly this could not be said of Gilda (Linda Richardson), though she sang like a nightingale. The best orchestra in London performed to a high standard under Michael Lloyd, who managed to bring out readings here and there that added real enjoyment for long-term opera goers. The Chorus was on top form too.

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