Rigoletto, Coliseum, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

A Rigoletto that won't be silenced
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The Independent Culture

Since the announcement that Jonathan Miller's feisty mafioso staging of Verdi's Rigoletto was finally to slip into well-earned retirement, it has played more performances than Cher has given farewell tours. Positively one last revival, they said, and still it's going strong.

The trouble is, you see, it works. And, more important, audiences love it, and keep coming back for more. The quiffs, the shades, the shiny suits, the violin cases of New York's Mafia-controlled Little Italy in the 1950s still sit so well with the opera's central idea of "family". Words such as "vendetta" need no translation. And now, of course, we don't miss a single one of them, thanks to the newly installed surtitling system.

It still looks good, too. Only the hotel where "the Duke" hosts his "fund-raising" parties could do with a bit of a refit (the designers were Patrick Robertson and Rosemary Vercoe). But those murky backstreet tenements, where local hit men (such as Brindley Sherratt's chillingly gaunt Sparafucile) lurk in the shadows, remain magnificently moody, and the Edward Hopperesque waterside bar of the final act still works a treat, visually and dramatically, with the Duke now giving the jukebox a timely whack to kick-start "La donna e mobile". Nice touch.

Peter Auty plays the Duke here. You can't miss him. He's the one with the biggest quiff and shiniest suit of all. And even if Auty is more puppy-dog cocky than he is swaggeringly chauvinistic (not too much physical charisma), the voice is so sure and open that you can imagine the girls dropping like ninepins at the first sound of it. All three of his arias hit the spot, with Act II's "morning after" opener simply terrific.

Gilda - the object of his desire in every sense of the word - is Judith Howarth (until 13 March), and the quality of her vocal performance prompts me to wonder why we don't see a lot more of her these days. She's a class act, and no mistake. The sound is warm and affecting, always with a thrilling extension at the top enabling her to take all the show-stopping high options, like the blistering E flat above high C at the close of Act II's "vendetta" duet. Her big Act I turn, "Caro nome", caught so well the careless rapture of the coloratura, and with shimmering trills that most top-ranking sopranos would kill for. Marvellous.

As was Alan Opie as the much-mocked hunchback with suspicion and hate in his heart for everyone but Gilda, his only daughter. When he sings - and how - "the whole of my universe is you", we believe him, his phrases swelling with pride. Opie's melodramatic relish of the role does not preclude a deeper conviction. His reproach of the Duke's henchmen in Act II collapses movingly into pitiful pleading, while his desperation is palpable by the end. And this opera really does stand or fall on the chemistry, the vocal frisson and the compatibility of the father-daughter relationship. Opie and Howarth did it for me.

The conductor, Alexander Briger (to 13 March), brought a fatalistic drive to proceedings, picking up the tempi with almost reckless inevitability towards a furious final-act storm. With musical values and casting of this quality, here's to the next "final" revival.

In repertory to 24 March (0870 145 0200; www.eno.org)

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