David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Online
Be honest: you don't go to opera for the plot. Anyone seriously interested in the minutiae of dramatic development should steer clear of Fennimore and Gerda (Delius), The Midsummer Marriage (Tippett) or Emilia di Liverpool (Donizetti). In fact, anything by Donizetti. Elisabetta o Il Castello di Kenilworth, anybody? Popular parts of the repertoire fare little better. Il Trovatore, which involves the gypsy Azucena flinging a baby into the flames (and the wrong baby at that), has a plot politely described as far-fetched. Mind you, the appearance of operatic gypsies is almost always a bad sign, if only because opera house choruses like nothing better than "castanet acting", ie donning hoop earrings, waggling their hips and stamping a lot.

Rigoletto, however, is a cracker - see Jonathan Miller's classic "Little Italy" production, revived yet again at ENO this autumn. Piave's libretto is derived from Victor Hugo's play, Le Roi s'amuse, now playing in Tony Harrison's punchy translation in a tremendous, full-throttle production by Richard Eyre (right). Too enormous to tour (it pours with rain on stage in Act 2), it's worth travelling miles to see. Quite apart from Bob Crowley's dazzlingly atmospheric sets, ignited by Jean Kalman's scalding lighting, the evening belongs to Ken Stott, whose all-stops-out performance catapults him into the major league.

Stott is a force to be reckoned with. His wonderfully clear, passionate performance as the doctor was almost the sole reason to see Arthur Miller's Broken Glass. Similarly, his assumption of the title role of The Misanthrope won him universal praise. In The Prince's Play he even gets to perform a number, something he will be doing rather more often at the end of the year when he plays Nathan Detroit in the National Theatre revival of Eyre's overwhelming production of Guys and Dolls.

'The Prince's Play' is in repertoire at the National to 13 Jul (0171- 928 2252)