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Review: Rigoletto, at the London Coliseum

It’s love and deceit in Little Italy as Verdi goes to 1950s New York

16 February, 2017 — By Sarah Dawes

Nicholas Pallesen as Rigoletto, and Sydney Mancasola as Gilda in Jonathan Miller’s Rigoletto. PHOTO: ALASTAIR MUIR

VERDI’S masterpiece of intrigue and sexual imbroglio Rigoletto is based on a story by Victor Hugo set in 19th-century France, transferred to Renaissance Italy.

It was considered too shocking to be staged in France or Austria. Jonathan Miller’s version, created for English National Opera at the London Coliseum in 1982, and revived no fewer than 13 times, is set in Little Italy in 1950s New York. The Kings and Counts of Renaissance Italy become Mafia bosses.

The sets convey the seedy atmosphere – a 1950s bar, a dead-end street with fire escapes and a riverside café. They’re perfect back­grounds to the action.

Nicholas Pallesen, as Rigoletto, arouses all our sympathy as a down-on-his-fortunes bartender and over-protective father. His beautifully sung duet with his daughter Gilda (Sydney Mancasola) is a real tear-jerker. The pair are especially convincing in their affection for each other, conveying the justifiable dilemma of the daughter who longs for the excitement of the real world, and a father who wants to save her from the wickedness of that society.

Joshua Guerrero as Mafia boss Duke is a forceful actor as well as a consummate singer. Professional hitman Sparafucile (Barnaby Rea) and his sister/accomplice Maddalena (Madeline Shaw) are very believable in their money-grabbing, back-stabbing and grovelling personas.

This production brilliantly emphasises the ironic situation behind the famous aria La donna e mobile when the perfidious seducer sings of the faithlessness of women. And this is followed by a flawless rendering of the quartet where the Duke woos Maddalena – his adoring lover, Gilda, watching, sees him as he really is; and her father wails about vengeance.

Then Gilda sacrifices herself and is killed by her father in place of the Duke. There are 500 tickets for £20 or less for each performance – really good value.

ENO’s Rigoletto is at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2, at 7.30pm on February 17, 22, 25 (6.30pm), and 28. 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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