Rigoletto
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Melodramma in three acts. 1851.
  • Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself ).
  • First performance at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 11th March 1851.
CHARACTERS

The Duke of Mantua

tenor

Rigoletto, his court jester

baritone

Gilda, his daughter

soprano

Giovanna, her duenna

mezzo-soprano

Count Ceprano, a noble

bass

Countess Ceprano

mezzo-soprano

Count Monterone, a noble

baritone

Matteo Borsa, a courtier

tenor

Cavaliere Marullo, a courtier

baritone

Sparafucile, a hired assassin

bass

Maddalena, his sister

contralto

Court Usher

bass

Page

mezzo-soprano

Rigoletto is happy to abet the Duke in his amorous exploits and his bitter tongue earns him the hatred of the courtiers, of Count Ceprano, openly cuckolded by the Duke and of Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke has dishonoured. Monterone vents his anger at the Duke and curses Rigoletto. Meanwhile the courtiers suspect that Rigoletto himself has a mistress and plot their revenge. The bravo Sparafucile offers his services to Rigoletto, should he require them, and Rigoletto sees a similarity between their functions, before he goes into his house, where he warns his daughter Gilda, recently returned from her convent schooling, to be careful not to leave the house. Gilda, however, has been wooed by one she believes to be a young student, whom she has seen in church. This is, in fact, the Duke. The courtiers take their revenge on Rigoletto by abducting Gilda and taking her to the Duke, assisted by a blindfold Rigoletto, who thinks he is helping the abduction of Countess Ceprano. At court again, he turns on those who have tricked him, and plans his own revenge on the Duke through the agency of Sparafucile. Rigoletto then seeks to disillusion Gilda, who still loves the Duke, by showing her the latter’s depravity. He takes her to witness an assignation with Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister, having arranged that Sparafucile will murder the Duke. Maddalena, however, pleads for the life of the young man (the Duke disguised as a soldier), and Sparafucile agrees that if any other man should come before midnight, he will kill him in place of the Duke, and give Rigoletto the body in a sack, as agreed. Gilda determines to sacrifice herself for the Duke, and, dressed as a man as she is, enters the room and is murdered. Her body, in a sack, is delivered to Rigoletto outside, but his delight is destroyed when he hears the voice of the Duke inside the house, and opens the sack to reveal the body of his daughter.

Rigoletto is one of the best known of Verdi’s operas, with the Duke’s La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle) the most famous of its arias and one that has a particular function in the opera, as it returns at the end to reveal to Rigoletto the fact that the Duke is still alive. The theme of Monterone’s curse, an element that recurs in the opera, is first heard in the opening prelude, while the Duke’s character is first established with the carefree Questa o quella (This or that woman). Rigoletto’s first meeting with Sparafucile gives rise to his monologue Pari siamo (We are alike), as he considers the weapons of the dagger and the tongue. Disguised as a student, the Duke protests his love for Gilda, telling her his supposed name, which she fondly recalls in Caro nome (Dear name). At court, after the abduction of his daughter, Rigoletto turns on his tormentors in Cortigiani, vil razza dannata (Courtiers, vile cursed race), later consoling Gilda with Piangi, fanciulla (Weep, child). The third-act quartet takes the drama to a height of tension, as Rigoletto and Gilda secretly observe the meeting between Maddalena and the Duke, who addresses her as Bella figlia d’amore (Fair daughter of love), a scene that Liszt recaptures in his concert paraphrase of the opera.