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8.553042 - VERDI: Rigoletto (Highlights)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Rigoletto (Highlights)

Melodrama in 3 Acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Duke of Mantua - Yordy Ramiro, tenor
Rigoletto, a court jester - Eduard Tumagian, baritone
Gilda, his daughter - Alida Ferrarini, soprano
Sparafucile, a hired assessin - Jozef pacek, baritone
Maddalena, his sister - Jitka Saparova, contralto
Giovanna, Gilda's nurse - Alzbeta Michalkova, contralto
Marullo - Peter Subert, tenor
Borsa Matteo - Jozef Abel, tenor
Court Ceprano - Robert Szucs, tenor

Courtiers - Ladies - Pages - Halberdiers
The scene is set in the city of Mantua and its environs. The period is the 16th Century.

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rahbari, conductor


Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Le 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 giomo 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 Rè 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 Un 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 while staying 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 11 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 stimatized 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 Brambilia 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 rôle 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, after the Overture [Track 1], with a scene in which the Duke has his heart set on the seduction of the wife of Count Ceprano. In a Ballata [2] he explains how all beauties are the same to him and he has no intention of tying himself to a single one. Rigoletto, the hunch-backed court jester, abets the Duke in his seduction of the Countess, mocking the cuckolded husband, who swears revenge on Rigoletto. Count Monterone, whose daughter has been wronged by the Duke, responds to Rigoletto's mockery by pronouncing a curse on him and his master. In the second scene, set in a blind alley outside Rigoletto's house, the jester meets Sparafucile, a hired assassin, who offers him his services, should he ever need them. Rigoletto, alone, draws a comparison between himself and the murderer, he killing with his tongue and the other with his sword: he recalls Monterone's curse and expresses his contempt for the courtiers of the Duke [3]. Entering the courtyard of his house, he is greeted by his daughter Gilda, recently released from her convent school, her presence hidden from the court [4]. She asks about her mother, but he refuses to answer, although he remembers her with fondness: all his love is now for Gilda, his whole universe. Rigoletto summons Gilda's nurse Giovanna, and asks if there have been any visitors, bidding her watch Gilda closely. The Duke, however, disguised as a student, bribes Giovanna to ensure her silence and is surprised to see Rigoletto there, not knowing his relationship with Gilda, whom he has followed on the way to church. Once Rigoletto has gone, the Duke declares his love [5], giving her an assumed name and not revealing his true identity. Once he has gone, she muses on his dear name [6]. The courtiers, meanwhile, gathered in the street outside, think that Gilda must be Rigoletto's mistress and plan her abduction, a procedure in which Rigoletto himself is induced to help, thinking that they are abducting Count Ceprano's wife. Masked, he holds the ladder for them to climb his own garden wall. They carry out their scheme [7], ready to mock Rigoletto the next day.

Act II takes place in the Duke's palace once more. The Duke is agitated [8], since Gilda has been taken from him: when he returned to her house, he had found her gone, and he imagines her tears and the danger she is in. His mood changes when his courtiers reveal what they have done and the identity of their victim. When Rigoletto comes in, affecting unconcern, the courtiers mock him [9]. Still pretending indifference, he tries to find out where Gilda is. The Duchess requests her husband's presence, but the courtiers make excuses. Now Rigoletto realises that Gilda is with the Duke in an inner room and the others now understand that they have abducted Rigoletto's daughter. Now he curses them all, damned race of courtiers [10], and in desperation tries to open the doors of the inner chamber, to be held back by the courtiers, while he begs them all to have pity on him. Gilda comes out, throws herself into her father's arms, and tells him what has happened, how the Duke first deceived her [11]. Rigoletto accepts the dishonour as his alone and tries to comfort his daughter. Monterone enters, frustrated that his curse has not harmed the Duke, but Rigoletto now promises him the revenge he has sought.

Act III is set outside the city by the banks of the River Mincio. There is a rough building, a hostelry below and rough stairs leading to a grain-store above. Gilda and her father are in the street outside, while the Duke, disguised now as an ordinary officer, drinks within, singing of the fickle nature of women [12]. The assassin Sparafucile returns with wine and knocks on the ceiling, a signal to his sister Maddalena to come down to entertain their guest. Sparafucile leaves them together and goes out to Rigoletto, who assures him that this is the one he must kill. Inside the Duke now declares his love for Maddalena, to the distress of Gilda, who, with her father, overhears this evidence of perfidy. The Duke is vehement in his protestations, but Maddalena makes light of them [13]. Rigoletto, meanwhile, is set only on revenge. While Sparafucile prepares to murder the Duke, Maddalena regrets the death of such a handsome young man for the mere twenty scudi paid by the jester. Eventually he agrees that if another visitor appears before midnight, when Rigoletto will return, they may kill him instead. Ironically it is Gilda who returns, now dressed as a man, anxious to save the Duke, and it is her that Sparafucile kills. When Rigoletto returns to claim his victim, he is given a body in a sack. He gloats over his supposed victim, but then the voice of the Duke is heard above, singing his song on the faithlessness of women. To his horror, he discovers the victim of his own revenge to be his daughter, now very near to death [14]. He kneels by her side, calling on her to answer him and then knocks on the door of the tavern, but no one answers. As she dies, Gilda confesses her love, while Rigoletto blames himself for causing her death: now, though, she will be in Heaven with her mother and will pray for her father. Gilda's death brings again a bitter realisation of the working of Monterone's curse, as he falls distraught by the body of his daughter.


Keith Anderson

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