Quinn Kelsey’s magnificent Rigoletto deserves a better production

Quinn Kelsey’s magnificent Rigoletto deserves a better production

Robert Tanitch reviews Rigoletto at London Coliseum

When Verdi was asked which of his operas was his favourite he replied it was Rigoletto. I have seen two great productions: Franco Zeffirelli’s sumptuous Renaissance revival for the Royal Opera House and Jonathan Miller’s brilliant Mafioso update for English National Opera. Both were extremely popular and had extremely long runs.

Christopher Alden, eschewing naturalism, sets the whole of the action in a 19th century gentleman’s club, a place for debauchery and vice as well as reading newspapers. The actual story line in this permanent setting is very difficult to follow and will confuse those who do not know the opera.

The wood-panelled setting by Michael Levine looks magnificent and there are some striking pictorial images. The most notable, and certainly the nastiest, is when the chorus of excited clubmen form a circle round the Duke of Mantua and Gilda to watch her being raped,  blocking the audience’s view completely.

The final scene is normally set in a dilapidated inn by the river during a stormy night. Rigoletto stands victorious over the dead body of the Duke in the sack, only to discover the Duke is still alive and it is his daughter, who has been killed. It is one of opera’s great scenes. The melodrama is completely ruined. There is no inn, no quayside, no water, no real storm, only Gilda’s dead body on a white sheet on an empty stage.

The only reason for seeing this revival is for Verdi’s music (conductor Graeme Jenkins) and a magnificent performance by Quinn Kelsy in the title role and especially so when he is voicing his anguish in his superb arias.

Barry Banks’ Duke sings well but, physically, looks all wrong. Peter Rose’s hired assassin has presence. Anna Christy’s Gilda has a doll-like quality.

Watching this production I wondered why nobody had revived Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, the French play on which Verdi based his opera.

There was a performance by the National Theatre in 1996; but they did is very badly in an updated modern translation which did Hugo no favours whatsoever.

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Image courtesy of ENO Rigoletto 2014 Quinn Kelsey and Anna Christy 2 (c) Alastair Muir