In New York's Little Italy, the Duke is a Mafia boss, his court a gang of dapper thugs, and the court jester is a beleaguered barman.
When the Duke launches into his swaggering, womanising aria La donna e' mobile, he cues the orchestral music by feeding the jukebox. And when tenor Joshua Guerrero thumped the jukebox to restart the deliberately halting intro at the performance Culture Whisper attended, the gag mostly masked his mistimed entry when this hit song started in earnest. Conductor Sir Richard Armstrong and the fleet-of-foot orchestra of English National Opera came to the rescue.
As befits the New York theme, the cast is dominated by Americans. Baritone Nicholas Pallesen, who was impressive at ENO as Prince Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades last year, admitted to a cold, but sang splendidly and movingly in the title role of the misshapen bartender whose innocent daughter, Gilda, falls for his heartless, playboy boss, the Duke. I couldn't quite see the attraction to Gilda of Guerrero's porky Mafia boss, but soprano Sydney Mancasola is so impressive as the romantically awakened innocent that her confusion and desolation is palpable. This is a lovely voice that moves nimbly through the emotions with alacrity and passion.
Big-voiced British bass Barnaby Rea as the hired assassin Sparafucile is deeply menacing. Mezzo-soprano Madeleine Shaw, as his sister and accomplice, Maddalena, was slightly outdone in the last act quartet, but this was thrillingly sung, nonetheless.
What a generous composer Verdi is: in the closing pages he introduces new musical ideas that lesser men would have milked to death. And he can break your heart with a simple descending scale.
This once radical production of Rigoletto is no longer an outlandish surprise, but in acquiring the patina of age, it buffs up nicely. Take a newcomer to opera: they will be delighted and astonished by turns.
|What||Rigoletto review, English National Opera|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
02 Feb 17 – 25 Feb 17, Two Saturday performances begin at 6:30PM
|Price||£12 - £105|
|Website||Click here for information and booking|