Thursday, 22 October 2009

RIGOLETTO, English National Opera, 17 October 2009

English National Opera, 17 October 2009

Giuseppe Verdi, RIGOLETTO. 

Cast  in order of appearance

The 'Duke'                                                       Michael Fabiano
Borsa                                                               Peter van Hulle
Ceprano's wife                                              Fiona Canfield
Rigoletto                                                         Anthony Michaels-Moore
Marullo                                                            Daniel Hoadley
Ceprano                                                          James Gower
Monterone                                                      Freddie Tong
a professional hit-man                                   Brindley Sherratt
Rigoletto's daughter                                      Katherine Whyte
Giovanna                                                        Judith Douglas
A Secretary                                                    Karen Foster
A Henchman                                                   Andrew Tinkler
Maddalena                                                     Madeleine Shaw

Chorus and orchestra of English National Opera.
Conductor                                                     Stephen Lord

Director                                                         Jonathan Miller

Almost incredible to think that this production by Jonathan Miller was first seen in the early 1980s - almost long enough ago to make it a 'traditional' production! It still works as convincingly as when I first saw it - in fact I would go so far as to say that it is MORE convincing than some genuinely 'traditional' productions I have seen....the Mafia-dominated 1950s New York is just as corrupt as the court of the Duke of Mantua (Francois I of France in Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse - Verdi had trouble with the censors again), and it is still about a powerful 'boss' who can - and does - have any woman he chooses and discard her once he gets bored with her, who has henchmen who don't hesitate to dispose of anyone who crosses his will.
Watching this production, I was struck again by the attention to detail displayed by the chorus and the singers of the minor roles, who all actually looked very smart in 1950s costumes. (The photo here is of an performance some years ago, with a different cast, but I have included it to give an idea of how it looks).

The conductor, Stephen Lord, making his ENO debut, is currently Music Director of the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.  If he is intending to work in the UK on a regular basis, he has made a good start, conjuring the right tones of menace from the orchestra in the prelude, and also whipping up extremes of excitement where necessary, and also seems to have a good rapport with the singers.
The role of the 'Duke' was this time taken by Michael Fabiano, also making his ENO debut. Here he is with Anthony Michaels-Moore, the Rigoletto, and with the henchmen in Act II.

 He looks the part, as well as having a pleasant tenor voice with little diffiuculty in reaching the high notes. I always like the way "La donna e mobile" is staged in this production: inside Sparafucile's sleazy downtown bar, the 'Duke' puts it on the juke box, and when the orchestra pauses for a few bars, he kicks the juke-box to get it started again...

Anthony Michaels-Moore has returned to the ENO after too long an absence, and this is one of the best roles I have seen him perform. It's true that he doesn't look particularly 'deformed', or disabled, he just limps a bit and perhaps one shoulder is higher than the other, but I found this sufficiently dramatically convincing. Do you need to be a hunchback when you can sing and act with such passion? This is the scene in which he mocks Monterone,(a small role, but pivotal to the plot, competenly sung by Freddie Tong) little dreaming that his mocking will back-fire on him.

He looks threatening enough in this scene with the henchmen, demanding that Gilda be returned to him. "Cortigiano, vil razza dannata....." Excellently and convincingly translated as "Filthy bastards, you liars, you rabble...."

During this aria, of course, Rigoletto runs the gamut of emotions from anger to despair, by the end he is no longer threatening but pleading.....and Anthony Michaels-Moore really got under the skin of the part, desperately begging for them to just give him back his daughter, please. The Mafia henchmen, of course, show no sympathy.
Gilda was sung by Katherine Whyte - also making her ENO debut. Her voice is sharp and bright, perhaps a little hint of shrillness at the end of "Caro nome", but it didn't really matter....she did convincingly convey the character of an innocent young girl, so sheltered that she is bound to fall in love with the first handsome young man who crosses her path - this is the problem, of course, Rigoletto wants to protect her from the corrupt world of which he is a part, but he protects her too much......

Here she is pleading with Rigoletto to spare the man who has betrayed her.

I was unfortunately unable to find a graphic of Brindley Sherrat as Sparafucile.....he looked such a menacing hoodlum! Sherrat's dark deep bass was exactly right for the part. The role of Maddalena was sung bhy Madeleine Shaw, who infused the role with the ideal amount of sultriness, as a complete contrast to Gilda.

A very satisfying evening of musical theatre.

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