It is rare that I go and see a Verdi opera without remembering the storyline. After studying the great Italian composer and his operas at university you would think the narrative of Rigoletto would stick in my head, but when I went to see the ENO production a few nights ago it was only the melodies which came to mind. Luckily I had my musical grandmother by my side to explain the plot when I got lost.
In brief the opera tells the tale of a cripple (Rigoletto) and his fair daughter (Gilda), who he locks away for protection. When Rigoletto’s boss (the Duke, a gross womaniser) spies the beautiful girl he sets about to find her. Discovering his daughter has been disgraced, Rigoletto is determined to get revenge on his boss once and for all, but unfortunately the murderer he hires kills the wrong person.
Jonathan Miller’s iconic production returns to the Coliseum for its 13th revival since the original run in September 1982. Over the last four decades this Miller vision of Rigoletto has become one of the most popular ENO show, never failing to thrill audiences. I am often not a fan of modern realisations of classic operas, but this production of Rigoletto manages to portray the story in a contemporary setting without losing the magic of Verdi’s score.
Nicholas Pallensen plays the title role for the first time and sings with gusto and emotional power. His voice is strong and his acting was hugely convincing. Sydney Mancasola makes her ENO debut as his daughter. Mancasola has a shrill voice which comes into its own during the Act III quartet. The Duke, played by Joshua Guerrero, is suitably charming, and his voice is beautifully velvety which I thought worked well for this lyrical Verdi role.
For opera lovers this production of Rigoletto is a must see, continuing at the ENO until 28 February, book tickets here.
I must say I was hugely excited to receive the invitation to review again at the King’s Head, it being one of my favourite places to come and see what’s on offer. This evening certainly did not disappoint. I was sceptical at the thought of an opera of Verdian proportions being done justice by the intimate settings of the King’s Head but with the stage being set wisely in thrust mode, the action managed to overcome the spatial limitations of its platform.
Now, if you have seen any of the publicity for this production, you will realise that it bears resemblance to a certain Swedish super-power home store. Indeed, ‘Ballo’ is the famous Ikea’s retail rival in this version. That is not to trivialise or undermine the storyline in any way; as all the drama, backbiting and tragedy that one would expect from Verdi is still very much present, just against a more humorous, light-hearted backdrop – kudos to Adam Spreadbury-Maher for striking this fine balance. A healthy dose of Abba in the second act may have offended the sensibilities of some purists but an open mind will put paid to any such reactions – it certainly had the audience’s hips shaking and bottoms wiggling!
The roles have been double-cast; I was fortunate to catch the tragic lovers Riccardo and Amelia being portrayed by Edward Hughes and Becca Marriott respectively. Hughes commanded the challenging score magnificently; sustaining repeated high B flats with impressive stamina and resonance. Marriot’s athletic arias were performed with panache and intelligence, and the two had a lovely chemistry. The casting surprise of the evening was the trouser role (Oscar) being sung by male coloratura soprano Martin Milnes. This added great comedy and spark to the show, and if one had closed their eyes they never would have known the difference! The greatest comic injection, however, came from Olivia Barry’s portrayal of the fortune-teller Ulrica. She had the audience in stitches with her witty interpretation, and delivered the epic role with great control and a rich, velvety mezzo.
As ever, a theatre of this size limits the scope for orchestral accompaniment. However, the lightning fingers of Ben Woodward more than compensated for this – he handled this tour de force of a score with great dexterity – top marks.
Ballo runs until 25 May – book tickets here.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.