This is a famous production by Jonathan Miller for English National Opera that is still being revived nearly 27 years later. The recording of the original production was made by the, now defunct, Thames Television. Memo to TV moguls: if you insist on broadcasting operas, you will probably end up losing your franchise.
I have been curious to see this production for some time so I was pleased to see that it was scheduled by Sky Arts as part of its Jonathan Miller tribute evening. Sadly, by then, the master must have languished too long in the Thames vault. I cannot recommend this film as the sound keeps fading in and out every few seconds making it a very painful experience to listen too. It is possible that Sky Arts just broadcast a duff copy but I don't think so since a reviewer of the DVD on Amazon makes the same complaint.
The film is prefaced by two introductions from Miller himself. First there is the 2009 Miller who makes the astonishing assertion that it was one of the earliest examples of theatrical updating. No-one can ever criticise Miller for being unduly modest but, if what he says is true, now we know who to blame for all these modern opera productions set in lap dancing clubs and public lavatories. In the second introduction, the 1982 Miller explains, in a very patronising way, that this production is not set in 16th century Mantua but in 1950s New York: "Some of you... will be startled, perhaps even outraged". Miller also makes it clear that his research for this production did not go much further than watching The Godfather and Some Like It Hot (Dats right, we was at Rigoletto's).
As for the production itself, it looks rather cliché-ridden. This may be unfair because it is possible, as Miller suggests, that he actually invented these clichés. It's like watching an Orson Welles film and thinking that you have seen that shot a thousand times before without realising that it was being used for the first time. The first act, in a New York bar, with Rigoletto as the barman looks good but the narrative is unclear, much less clear than in many traditional productions. This is despite its being performed in James Fenton's English translation. Gilda's "Caro nome che il mio cor" becomes "Dearest name of my first love" which is a little too staccato. One influence that Miller does not own up to is West Side Story. Marie McLaughlin's balcony scene as Gilda bears a striking resemblance to Natalie Wood's in that film.
For me, Act III is the most successful. Arthur Davies gives a blustering performance as the Duke singing along to a jukebox playing La Donna E Mobile. There is an effectively staged Quartet and the English translation comes into its own in the final scene with John Rawnsley's moving Rigoletto. I was amused to see a slender young man, with a familiar look to him, singing the part of Sparafucile. He turns out to be none other than the great bass John Tomlinson.
While it may be an interesting production, when the poor sound quality is taken into account, this film has only historical interest. It seems an awful pity to say that about a film that is only 27 years old. I had waited so long to see it. Maybe I should have gone to hear it live at ENO instead.
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