thu 18/07/2024

Rigoletto, English National Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Rigoletto, English National Opera

Rigoletto, English National Opera

This first-class production deserves better than this second-rate revival

Jesters do oft prove prophets: Rigoletto (Nicholas Pallesen) cursing Monterone (Nicholas Folwell)Alastair Muir

This was supposed to be a triumphant return – one final encore for the production so good that audiences just couldn’t let it go. Instead, this 13th revival of Jonathan Miller’s Mafia Rigoletto seems like an apology. The designs are handsome as ever, the concept as neat, but the details of both direction and music are so scrappy and scattered that the show feels more like a basement clear-out than a loving restoration.  

Raw, gritty brass launched the Prelude harshly on opening night, setting the tone for an evening where beauty was consistently the last, rather than then first, consideration. The score is delivered uncut, with no interpolated top notes permitted, as though conductor Richard Armstrong aimed to match the naturalism of the visuals with an equally unselfconscious, occasionally ugly, musical delivery. Perhaps if the production were better cast or sung that might work, but here it took away from the music without repaying anything in the drama.

It’s the principals who really suffer, abandoned time and again with nothing to do

According to the programme, ENO staff director Elaine Tyler-Hall is responsible for this revival, but it’s hard to see much evidence of her work. The crowd scenes work well enough (though lack the collective menace they can so easily convey), but it’s the principals who really suffer, abandoned time and again in unlikely positions with nothing to do, desperately filling time with hand-wringing, head-shaking and all the other stock theatrical gestures of the unsupported actor. There’s no attention to musical detail either. Verdi’s score clearly tells us when the door to Sparafucile’s seedy bar swings open and the storm blows in, so why not time entries with it? Likewise, the gag with the jukebox in “La donne e mobile” would have been a lot funnier if the blow dealt to the machine by the Duke had been timed exactly to the restarting of the music.

Musically things are little better. Armstrong directs a pedestrian performance, high on volume and low on senstivity, that only occasionally takes flight, generally when accompanying ravishing American soprano Sydney Mancasola (pictured below with Joshua Guerrero). Her Gilda spins cleanly and clearly, the unexpected colour of the bottom of her voice anchoring an easy, blooming upper register. Her musicality is hobbled however in ensembles by Nicholas Pallesen’s stentorian Rigoletto, who rushes and drags by turns, never really reaching an agreement with Armstrong and his tempi in this, his role debut.Joshua Guerrero’s Duke is adequate – sings nicely enough, if with rather gripped tone, acts nicely enough – but if you remember that this is a role recently taken at ENO by Barry Banks, and before that by the radiant Michael Fabiano, then it rather puts things in perspective. The supporting roles offer some consolation, from Nicholas Folwell’s glorious Monterone, dispatching his curse with ferocious conviction, to Madeleine Shaw’s thickly sensual Maddalena and Barnaby Rea’s Sparafucile – beautifully sung.

Rosemary Vercoe and Patrick Robertson’s sets scrub up a treat; there’s nothing tired about Miller’s visuals, and the production could quite happily do another couple of decades if required. But it deserves much better than it gets here. If ENO is looking to box-office favourites like this Rigoletto to help balance the books then it is going to have invest in them – not money, but time and attention. It’s not enough just to dust off a hit and stick it back on stage. There’s nothing less forgivable than a second-rate production of a first-class show. Sort it out.

There’s nothing tired about Miller’s visuals, and the production could quite happily do another couple of decades


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article


Look, I'm not saying that ENO hasn't introduced some wonderful American singers. But really, this is an opera they should have been casting with company singers. Look at what it used to be like. And above all what about all the young British sopranos who could have sung Gilda. Hopefully this will all change witn USAcentric casting director McMurray out of the picture.

What a strange review, entirely in contradiction to the show that I saw last night. A show that consistently received rounds of applause for arias and ensembles - not always the case in London. A show that saw ovations for principals and a standing ovation for the director. And not just a 'tame home crowd' - a genuine buzz that was entirely in contrast to some of the gloom-laden nights at the Coliseum last year. I saw a company (chorus on top form) celebrating its heritage and looking to the future. I can only imagine what side of the bed this reviewer got out of or what her agenda is....

Maybe she just didn't like it Bryan? She gives plenty of clear reasons why that might be so. And she is paid to critique it, not cheerlead. She certainly indicates she is a fan of the Miller production.

Indeed. She's entitled to like it or not like it - such is life. Casting aspersions as to the amount of work that's gone into putting it on ("It’s not enough just to dust off a hit and stick it back on stage" and "it’s hard to see much evidence of her work") struck me as unnecessarily catty and entirely in contradiction to the reception that it got from the audience. With respect to cheer-leading - actually, you know what, the reviewers could give some thought to the impact that their 'personal and professional opinions' have on the fortunes of companies who they not only profess to care about but who are also under extra scrutiny at the moment, given ACE funding rounds. Other companies are given more than their fair share of 'free passes' and cheer-leading as you and I well know.

Went to see this 17th Feb: mostly well sung but so old fashioned: static chorus, even principles looked awkward a lot of the time & did nothing for the opera image - there is no need to be so out of shape, not helped at all by ill fitting costumes. Such beautiful music let down by the visuals sadly.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters