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Rigoletto review at Coliseum, London – ‘an unexceptional revival’

Joshua Guerrero and Anthony Flaum in Rigoletto at Coliseum, London. Photo: Alastair Muir
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When in 2014 ENO brought in Christopher Alden’s single-set Rigoletto, it was assumed that Jonathan Miller’s vintage Mafiosi production had had its day. Yet here it is again for the 13th time. The relocation to Little Italy no longer startles as it did in 1982 but the narrative is crystal clear. There is danger as well as beauty in the mean streets evoked by Miller’s regular designers.

The Edward Hopper-esque bar for the final act, in which Madeleine Shaw shines again as a sensual Maddalena, has always looked a treat, while the old jukebox joke launching La Donna e Mobile still raises a laugh. That said, the pitfalls of complacency are not entirely avoided by revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall. Miller himself, on hand to acknowledge the applause of the first night audience, secured a tighter show in 2009.

In the pit, Richard Armstrong directs an uncut text with relish and no interpolated high notes; the dynamic range is wide, brass unashamedly demonstrative, choral work impeccable. The all-American principals prove less sure-footed. As Rigoletto, here a jesting bartender, Nicholas Pallesen has a warmer, softer-grained baritone than is usually associated with the role and takes an age to find his customary focus. Much touted Joshua Guerrero makes an unexceptionable UK debut as the Duke of Mantua turned mobster.

Only Sydney Mancasola is in any way special as Gilda. The finest actor of the three, she is radiant and glittering in the more stratospheric writing, her biggest problem being a tendency to gulp. James Fenton’s translation is projected with variable clarity so the surtitles help. They are not needed for Nicholas Folwell’s Monterone and Barnaby Rea’s Sparafucile, both outstanding.

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An unexceptional revival of a stellar production