English National Opera

A tragic story of jealousy, vengeance and sacrifice, Rigoletto is one of Verdi’s most popular operas. Jonathan Miller’s much-loved ‘Mafia’ production makes a welcome return to the ENO stage, relocating the action to New York’s Little Italy in the 1950s with a tightly cut ‘ Mad men’ swagger to the costumes and Lloyd Wright interiors and Hooperesque night bar.

Rigoletto is a joker. But sometimes his sharp tongue runs away with him. And his latest wisecrack has started a vendetta that’s far from funny. Now, with his daughter seduced by the dissolute Duke, Rigoletto is out for revenge. But he definitely won’t have the last laugh.

This is the 13th Revival of Miller famous production and the first since 2009 and it’s reverted to Millers original staging from 1982, although this was the first time for me and it shone like new. Like all of Millers work at the ENO It’s certainly refined and stylish in visual and content and the 1950’s setting is sumptuous with costumes and light underscoring the patriarchal privilege and entitlement that Millers brings to the fore in Verdi’s work.

See more info on this iconic production here

The music is ploughed through underneath the action and although it was enjoyable there seemed some lack of finesse about it, a disconnect with the emotional impact of the narrative that gave a feeling of watching, rather than engaging with it.  Perhaps that was the intention of conductor Sir Richard Armstrong and there’s plenty of oomph in his conducting, just not so much delicacy.

Joshua Guerrero’s Duke is all subtle threat and entitled majesty although a little too charming for the violence that churns from him and never convinced me that Gilda would fall so strongly for him which weakens the climatic emotional impact of her sacrificial action, Nicholas Pallesen debuting as Rigoletto gets the acting right, and with his lyrical baritone conveys the complexity of Rigoletto’s emotional state and precarious social environment but there seemed to be some opening night issues and this impacted on his vital connection with Sydney Mancasola as Gilda, they never seemed to match his care and her vulnerability. Mancasola shines with a brilliance which puts the rest of this production in the shade and she provides all the sublime moments of the night her stunning and impeccable coloratura thrilled me. Barnaby Rea’s crepuscular performance as Sparafucile also brought some much-needed dazzle to the night even when sung in such skulking convincing shadows.

The chorus is superb, as they always are and a delight each and every time they lurch with menace and patriarchal mobbishness in an out of the action,  and their choreography gave the club setting the apparently laid back but riddled with tension and rivalries edge it so needed. They looked so handsome and polished I was riveted by their masculine allure.

This was an entertaining evening out in a safe pair of hands and I enjoyed my first experience of what seems to have become a ENO classic, Miller joined the cast on stage to take the thunderous applause and although not perfect this Rigoletto certainly manages to tick all the Verdian boxes and provided an emotionally complex night, filled with hope and ultimate tragedy all passed off with the most sumptuous of style, which is what a night out at the opera is all about.

With tickets from only £20 or under and the ENO a very short hop from Victoria this is a superb introduction to the opera or a relaxing banker of a night. ENO offers half price tickets for children under 16.

Running Time

2hrs 50mins

For more info or to book tickets see the ENO website here

Until February 28

English National Opera

London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES

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