Jonathan Miller’s famous Mafia staging of Rigoletto has returned to ENO’s repertoire. Though thirty five years old now, it is more than worthy its return, as it makes sense of both the narrative and the music. The dark spaces in Patrick Robertson’s designs are a fitting reflection of the even darker emotions on stage. That the first night of this thirteenth revival did not have quite the frisson one might have hoped for came more from a combination of details rather than any one problem.
Sir Richard Armstrong in the pit took a cautious approach to the score, with few moments of real excitement or passion. Tempi were often on the slow side with little sense of excitement. By contrast the chorus was in exciting and attacking form.
The solo cast sang well but with the exception of Sydney Mancasola’s radiant Gilda, were all leaning on the side of caution. This was probably why Nicholas Folwell made such an impact as Monterone, spitting venom at all around him even as he is led off to summary execution, and smaller parts like Marullo and even the police officer, came across so strongly.
Unfortunately the two leading men made a limited impact. Joshua Guerrero has the secure top for the Duke and phrases well but his approach seemed over-comfortable with little sense of the menace or threat the part involves and which this production has in the past brought out very well.
This was also true of Nicholas Pallesen’s Rigoletto. While the voice is well focussed for the part his presence rarely moved us. Where the character calls for a wide range of emotions which will sweep us away, here everything was careful, often to the point where it lacked emotional impact. The great cry for vengeance in act two gave no sense of catharsis, so that we never felt the weight of the curse. Rigoletto takes it seriously and so should we.
I have no doubt this production will be revived again. It deserves it. If the present cast can throw off what may have been first night nerves and become a little more reckless, it might yet be worth a visit.