Magazine article The Spectator

Dazzled but Confused

Magazine article The Spectator

Dazzled but Confused

Article excerpt

So it's farewell to the fedoras and adieu to the jukebox. After 32 years of service, Jonathan Miller's Little Italy staging of Rigoletto has been given the heave-ho by English National Opera and replaced by a younger model.

First seen and disliked in Chicago in 2000, then seen and disliked again in Toronto, Christopher Alden's nearly-new production affords the London audience an opportunity to congratulate itself for being less conservative than the North Americans, thereby mitigating its customary fright at the provocations of Continental Regietheater. Potted palms, Turkish carpets, oil lamps and leather armchairs fill the stage in Michael Levine's handsome reconstruction of a mid-19th-century oak-panelled gentleman's club, Alden's analogue for the court of Mantua. Breathe deeply and you can almost smell the macassar oil.

Verdi's 1851 adaptation of Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse premiered in the age of Great Exhibitions and freak-shows, scientific progress and the sprawling squalor recorded by Henry Mayhew. The rich are always with us in Levine's unchanging interior, crowding around the Chesterfield to cheer on their debauched Duke or snapping open their newspapers in indifference as the tragedy of a curse on a man already cursed spirals to its bloody conclusion. Rigoletto's modest residence and the rookery where the assassin Sparafucile and his prostitute sister Maddalena ply their trade have to be imagined.

Tolerated and even feared in high society for his wit and sharp tongue, Verdi's hunchbacked jester is punished for withholding the sympathy that has been withheld from him. His is an exhausting, painful condition, putting strain on the spine, the legs, the heart. To this is added shame, self-loathing and suffocating love, all knitted into the brow of Quinn Kelsey's Rigoletto: a magnetic, bruising, eloquent impersonation of this kyphotic antihero, first seen dozing fitfully in an armchair while Monterone's disgraced daughter (a silent role) lies upstage in a pool of light, an amuse-bouche for the humiliation of Gilda.

Crippled by innocence and ignorance, not permitted to know her father's name, Gilda (Anna Christy) falls ravenously on the Duke's alias of Gualtier Malde, the coloratura of 'Caro nome' describing a desperate, quivering, highly strung joy. At last someone has told her something, even if that something is a lie. Barry Banks, singing the role of the Duke purposefully, jumps up on the sofa like a priapic pekinese to lend emphasis to 'Questo e quella', ironically donning a breastplate for 'La donna e mobile'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.