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8.110051-52 - VERDI: Rigoletto (Bjorling, Sayao, Warren) (1945)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Rigoletl

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 -1901): Rigoletto




Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a tavern-keeper, and distinguished himself locally in music. The encouragement and patronage of his future father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in Busseto, allowed him further study in Milan, before returning to Busseto as maestro di musica. His first venture into opera, a reasonably successful one, was in 1839 with Oberto. This was followed, however, by the failure of Un giorno di regno, written at a period when the composer suffered the death of his wife and two children. His early reputation was established by the opera Nabucco, staged at La Scala in Milan in 1842.




Verdi's subsequent career in Italy was to bring him unrivalled fame, augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian national unity. His name itself was treated as an acronym for the proposed monarch of a united Italy, Vittorio Emanuele Re d'Italia, and much of his work in the period of unification was susceptible to patriotic interpretation. His long association with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi led to their marriage in 1859, the year of Il ballo in maschera. He completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, but felt himself unequal to further Shakespearian operas that were then proposed. He died in Milan, early in 1901, his death the subject of national mourning throughout Italy.




The opera Rigoletto was first staged at La Fenice in Venice on 11th March, 1851. A year earlier Verdi had expressed his delight with Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse, finding in Triboulet, the central character, a creation worthy of Shakespeare. He urged his librettist Francesco Maria Piave, poet and stage manager of La Fenice, to secure the approval of the censors as soon as possible. Piave did as Verdi suggested, but whatever verbal approval he had from the censors was denied when it came to the point. The operatic version of Le roi s'amuse, under the title La maledizione (The Curse), was stigmatized as immoral and obscene. The obscenity lay chiefly in the fact that the plot deals with the unscrupulous activities of a profligate king.




Piave's first suggested changes did not please Verdi. The King, Francis I, was to be a mere nobleman, the Duke of Ventignano, and there was to be no plot to kill him, while the murdered Gilda's body was not to be concealed in a sack. Triboletto, the original of Rigoletto, the court jester, was not to be an ugly hunchback. Negotiation with the censors followed, and something of Victor Hugo was restored. The villain was to be Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, referred to only as the Duke of Mantua, the deformity of the jester was permitted and there was no longer any objection to the sack. Censorship had caused delay and frustration, but by the end of December 1850 the matter was near enough to a settlement to allow Verdi to proceed with the composition in time for the carnival season.




Verdi had not only been angered by the censors and consequently impatient with Piave. He had also had serious reservations about the proposed prima donna, Signora Sanchioli, known, Verdi suggested, for her Michelangelesque poses. The final cast had Teresa Brambilla as the first Gilda, a 38-year-old singer, one of seven sisters well known on the operatic stage. The French-Italian baritone Felice Varesi, who had created the Verdian role of Macbeth, was the first Rigoletto, and the part of the Duke was taken by the tenor Raffaele Mirati. Varesi's daughter later recalled her father's doubts about the possible reaction of the audience to his appearance as a hunchbacked buffoon and how Verdi pushed him onto the stage at the first performance, causing him to stumble, but at the same time impressing the audience, enraptured by such a dramatically appropriate entrance. Rigoletto, as the opera was now known, was an immediate success with the public, and was received equally well in Paris, where even Victor Hugo approved, and in 1853 in London. In Rome the censors had their revenge, and Rigoletto now became Viscardello, a title and opera that Verdi disowned.




The opera, set at the ducal court in 16th century Mantua, opens with a scene in which the Duke, abetted by his jester Rigoletto, mocks Monterone, a courtier whose daughter the Duke has seduced. Monterone's curse on them both takes effect when the Duke, in disguise, finds his way into Rigoletto's house and declares his love for Rigoletto's beloved daughter Gilda, whom Rigoletto later unwittingly helps to abduct to the palace. There the Duke is able to betray her, and Rigoletto now plans to have the Duke killed. In the final act of the opera the Duke is closeted with Maddalena, sister of the murderer Sparafucile, whom Rigoletto has hired to murder his master. Maddalena persuades her brother to kill another in place of the Duke, and hand over his victim's body, concealed in a sack, to Rigoletto. Gilda, disguised as a man, overhears the conversation, and resolves to sacrifice herself. As Rigoletto gloats over what he believes to be the body of his daughter's seducer, the voice of the Duke is heard. Rigoletto tears open the sack, to reveal his dying daughter.



CD 1: Act 1


[1] Preludio The Overture opens with the motif of the curse, played by trumpet and trombone.


[2] Introduzione The scene is a magnificent room in the palace of the Duke. Dance music can be heard from an adjoining room, as courtiers and their ladies pass through, to join the dancing. The Duke comes in, talking to one of his courtiers, Borsa. He expresses his intention of bringing to a conclusion his affair with an unknown girl. Now, however, his mind is set on the beautiful wife of Count Ceprano.


[3] Ballata The Duke explains how all beauties are alike to him and he has no intention of tying himself down to any single one. [4] Some of the company enter the room, while a minuet is danced within. The Duke gallantly welcomes Countess Ceprano, to whom he declares his love. They leave the room together, while Rigoletto, the hunchbacked court jester, mocks Count Ceprano, with the approval of the other courtiers. The Count follows the Duke out, to the amusement of Rigoletto, who now leaves. The dancers break into a Perigordino. [5] The opening dance music is heard again and the Cavaliere Marullo tells the courtiers of his great news. Rigoletto is in love. The Duke reappears, followed by Rigoletto, who encourages him in his seduction of Countess Ceprano. the Count could be imprisoned, sent into exile or put to death, to the fury of the Count, who swears revenge on the jester, an idea that has the support of the other courtiers. Rigoletto relies on the protection of his master, who tells him that his jokes sometimes go too far, [6] Count Monterone, whose daughter is one of the Duke's victims, comes in and the dancing stops as he accuses the Duke, while Rigoletto mocks his anguish and his attempts to reclaim his daughter's honour, With terrible threats Monterone curses the Duke and Rigoletto, The latter laughs at the father's grief, but is alarmed at the curse, and the courtiers join with increasing vigour in the condemnation of Monterone, who is seized by two halberdiers and led away,



The scene changes to a blind alley in the city. On the left is a modest house, with a small walled courtyard, in which there is a poplar and a marble seat. There is a door in the wall, leading to the street. A door in the first floor of the house gives onto a balcony above the wall, to which steps lead from below. On the right of the street is a very high garden wall and the side of Count Ceprano's house. It is night.


[7] Duetto Rigoletto, wrapped in his cloak, now comes in, still thinking of Monterone's curse. He is followed at a distance by the desperado Sparafucile, who carries a sword beneath his cloak. Sparafucile offers Rigoletto his services. For a price he will dispose of any rival Rigoletto may have for the love of the girl living in the house and explains how his sister will lure a victim to his house, where he will murder him.


[8] Scena e Duetto As Sparafucile withdraws, Rigoletto compares himself to the murderer, he with his tongue, Sparafucile with the sword. The memory of Monterone's curse returns, intermingled with bitterness at his own deformity, condemning him to the role of buffoon, For the courtiers he has nothing but contempt, Rigoletto enters the courtyard of his house, and his daughter Gilda appears, throwing herself into his arms. She has only been in the town a short time, after leaving her convent school, and asks her father about his position, a question he refuses to answer, and about her mother. [9] Rigoletto remembers with fondness Gilda's mother, who is now dead, as she tries to console him.

All his love now centres on Gilda. His name does not matter, for he is her father, with no country, no family, no friend but her, his whole universe. Gilda has already been three months in the town but Rigoletto continues to forbid her to go out, fearing, as he does, her seduction. He calls the servant Giovanna and asks if there have been any visitors to the house and if the doors have remained shut. Rigoletto now bids Giovanna guard Gilda closely, while Gilda herself says that her guardian angel will protect her. He opens the courtyard door and looks into the street, while the Duke, disguised as a student, steals in, hiding himself behind the tree and throwing a purse to Giovanna to ensure her silence. Rigoletto asks Gilda if anyone followed her home from church, while the Duke is surprised to see Rigoletto there. He tells his daughter to be careful not to open the door to anyone, not even the

Duke, as he bids her farewell, reminding Giovanna of her duty, while Gilda expresses her confidence in the power of Heaven to protect her.


[10] Scena e Duetto Gilda talks to her nurse about the handsome young man who followed her on the way to church. The Duke gestures to Giovanna to leave and throws himself down on his knees before Gilda, declaring his love. She calls in alarm for Giovanna, as the Duke continues to urge his suit. As the Duke goes on with his fervent declaration of love, Gilda gives way' here is the incarnation of her maiden dreams. Gilda begs the Duke to tell her his name. At this moment the voice of Count Ceprano is heard in the street, talking to Borsa. The Duke declares that he is a poor student, Gualtier Malde. Giovanna bustles in, anxious at the voices she has heard in the street. The Duke bids Gilda farewell assuring her of his love. Giovanna hurries him out, while Gilda remains behind, musing.


[11] Scena ed Aria Gilda now reflects on the name of her lover. She sings rhapsodically of his dear name, an expression of the virgin purity of her feelings. She stands on the balcony, musing, and is seen by the light of the lantern she carries by" group of courtiers, masked and armed, in the street below. She must be Rigoletto's mistress, they think.


[12] Scena e Coro - Finale Primo Rigoletto returns, still haunted by Monterone's curse. Hearing a noise, he asks who is there, and the courtiers, planning revenge, now reveal themselves. Marullo comes forward and tells Rigoletto that they plan to abduct Ceprano's wife, giving him the key to Ceprano's house Rigoletto's fears are calmed. They give him a mask, and, with his eyes covered, he holds the ladder for them. The courtiers now climb Rigoletto's garden wall and abduct Gilda, consummating their revenge: tomorrow they will mock Rigoletto. As they carry her off, she drops a scarf. Gilda's distant cry for help is heard, as Rigoletto tears off the mask, sees Gilda's scarf, the door wide open and Giovanna aghast. Eventually he cries out: this is the work of Monterone's curse.



Act II

The scene is a room in the Duke's palace. There are

two side-doors and a larger door at the back of the

room. Full-length portraits hang on the walls at each

side, one of the Duke and one of his wife. There is a

chair near a table covered with a velvet cloth.


[1] Scena ed Aria The Duke is agitated. His Gilda has been stolen from him. When he returned to her house, he had found her gone. He imagines her predicament, her tears, the danger in which she is. [2] His courtiers burst in, eager to tell him of their abduction of the girl they suppose to be Rigoletto's mistress. The Duke asks them to tell him what has happened. The courtiers tell the Duke what they have done and how they have carried out their plan of revenge on Rigoletto. The Duke asks where the girl is now. They tell him that she is here, in the palace. The Duke's mood changes to one of delight, to the amazement of his courtiers, who cannot understand his reaction. The Duke hurries out.


[3] Scena ed Aria As Rigoletto comes in, affecting an air of unconcern, the courtiers mock him. He tries to find out where Gilda is, still feigning indifference. A page comes in, announcing that the Duchess requests her husband's presence. The courtiers tell him that the Duke is asleep, that he is hunting. Rigoletto listens attentively to their conversation, and then rushes forward, trying to make his way into the inner room. The girl who has been abducted is with the Duke and is Rigoletto's beloved daughter. The revelation of the girl's identity astonishes the courtiers, who bar his passage. [4] Rigoletto bitterly reproaches the vile race of courtiers. In desperation he tries to throw open the door to the inner room, but is held back by the courtiers. He begs Marullo to tell him where Gilda is and then beseeches them all to have pity on him.


[5] Scena e Duetto Gilda comes out of the inner room and throws herself into her father's arms. Rigoletto claims her as his only family, still hoping that all was in jest. Gilda confesses her shame, and he tells the courtiers to leave them alone. [6] He asks her to tell him what has happened and Gilda reveals the whole story of the Duke's deception. Rigoletto accepts the dishonour as his alone. He tries to comfort Gilda, who finds in his words those of a consoling angel. [7] As he contemplates the situation, Monterone is brought in, frustrated that his curse on the Duke has apparently had no effect. Rigoletto tells him that his curse has fallen on him. He promises Monterone his revenge, through the jester Gilda begs his forgiveness, as she sees his fierce determination.



The scene is by the banks of the River Mincio. To the left is a two-storey house, with a country hostelry visible below and rough stairs leading to the grain-store above. There is a door in the wall facing the street and cracks in the wall through which it is possible to see what is happening in the house. The district is desolate. It is night


[8] Scena e Canzone Gilda and Rigoletto are in the street. In the tavern Sparafucile sits by the table,

cleaning his sword-belt. Rigoletto promises revenge, while Gilda begs mercy for her lover. Rigoletto tells her to watch, through a crack in the wall. The Duke, disguised as an ordinary officer, enters the tavern and orders wine and a room. [9] The Duke sings of the fickle nature of woman, like a feather in the wind. Sparafucile returns with a bottle of wine and two beakers, which he puts down on the table. He knocks on the ceiling twice with the pommel of his sword, a signal for the appearance of a smiling young woman, in gypsy dress, to enter. The Duke tries to embrace her, but she evades him. Sparafucile leaves them and goes into the street, telling Rigoletto that this is his man and asking should he live or die. Sparafucile goes behind the house, by the river.


[10] Quartetto The Duke declares his love for the girl Maddalena, who at first does not take him seriously. They are overheard by Gilda and Rigoletto in the street outside. Gilda becomes increasingly indignant at the treachery of her lover, shown her by her father. The Duke is more vehement in his declaration, and Gilda the more distraught, while Maddalena takes a lighter view of matters. [11] Rigoletto, on the other hand, seeks only revenge. Rigoletto tells Gilda to return home and in the disguise of a man to make her way to Verona, where he will meet her the next day. She fearfully tries to persuade him to come with her, but he refuses, telling her to be gone.


Scena, Terzetto e Tempesta The Duke and Maddalena are laughing and drinking, while Rigoletto comes from behind the house with Sparafucile, handing him money, ten scudi in advance and ten when the deed has been done. He will return at midnight. Sparafucile assures him he can throw the body in the river himself, but Rigoletto insists that he must exact his own final revenge. As Rigoletto goes, there is a flash of lightning, and Sparafucile senses the approach of a storm. The Duke, meanwhile, tries to seize hold of Maddalena, who eludes him, as her brother Sparafucile comes in.

He tells them that it is starting to rain, and whispers to Maddalena that he has twenty gold scudi for the task in hand. Out aloud he offers the Duke his room on the floor above. The Duke whispers something into Maddalena's ear, and follows Sparafucile up. Maddalena is sorry for the young man, who is to be their victim. Her thoughts are punctuated by the sound of distant thunder. In the room above the Duke lays aside his sword and cloak and stretches on the bed to rest, singing again his song on the inconstancy of women, as he falls asleep. Maddalena tells her brother that the young man is pleasing and that twenty scudi is not much as a reward for his murder he is worth more. Sparafucile tells her to bring him the Duke's sword, as she goes up to the room above. Now Gilda reappears, dressed as a man, booted and spurred. She slowly draws nearer to the tavern, acting now through love, and begging her father's pardon. She looks through the crack in the wall and sees Maddalena put the Duke's sword on the table, while Sparafucile rummages in a cupboard, cursing. [12] Maddalena thinks the Duke resembles Apollo, as he sleeps. Sparafucile brings out a sack, for the body of her "Apollo", to be thrown into the river. Maddalena suggests that they trick Rigoletto, murder him and take the twenty scudi. Sparafucile is indignant if he betrays a client, who will trust him in the future? Eventually he agrees that if another person comes before midnight, then they may kill him instead. Maddalena insists that in such weather no-one will come. Gilda, who overhears all this, now resolves to make her own sacrifice for her faithless lover. Her voice joins with those of Maddalena and Sparafucile, as the storm grows in intensity. Bells are heard, announcing the half hour. Gilda's resolve is fixed, and she knocks at the door of the tavern, saying she seeks shelter. At first Sparafucile thinks the sound is only the wind, but eventually Maddalena opens the door. Sparafucile hides behind the door, with his dagger poised. As the storm reaches a climax, he stabs her.


[13] Scena e Duet to finale The storm has died down and Rigoletto returns to complete his revenge. It is not yet the hour. He waits, then midnight strikes and he knocks at the door. Sparafucile gives Rigoletto a body in a sack. When he asks for a light, Sparafucile demands his money and offers to help throw the body in the river. Rigoletto wants to savour his revenge alone and gloats over the supposed corpse of his enemy. At this moment the voice of the Duke is heard above, singing his favourite song. This is the curse of Monterone.



[14] Rigoletto tears open the sack, to see whose body lies there instead of the Duke's. To his horror the body of his daughter is revealed, and yet it cannot be so, since she is on the way to Verona. He kneels by the body, calling on Gilda to answer him, and then knocks furiously on the door of the tavern, but there is no reply. Then the dying voice of Gilda is heard, asking who calls her. Rigoletto, in desperation, asks who has done this deed. Gilda then confesses her own guilt!' she has died for love. Rigoletto is appalled that he himself, in his thirst for revenge, has brought about the death of his beloved daughter. Gilda, as she dies, tells her father that she will be in Heaven with her mother, and will pray for him. In deep distress Rigoletto begs her not to leave him. Her death brings again bitter realisation of the working of Monterone's curse, as Rigoletto falls distraught by the body of his daughter.



Keith Anderson


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