Court Jester Rigoletto loves taunting men about their wives’ affairs with the lustful Duke. Yet when he mocks a father whose daughter fell under the Duke’s spell, Rigoletto pays the ultimate price.
Rigoletto, the hunch-backed jester of the court of Mantua, constantly ridicules courtiers about the lustful Duke’s affairs with their wives. At a court ball, he enjoys hearing the Duke speak obscenely about a young woman who has recently caught his eye. What Rigoletto does not know is that the woman in question is Gilda, his daughter.
Count Monterone bursts in to demand the return of his own daughter, who has succumbed to the Duke’s charms. When Rigoletto mocks Monterone, the grieving father calls down a curse upon the jester’s head.
A group of courtiers later trick Rigoletto into helping them kidnap Gilda. When he realises what has happened and learns that the Duke intends to keep Gilda as a mistress, the enraged jester threatens revenge. He seeks help from an assassin named Sparafucile and his sister, Maddalena.
Maddalena lures the Duke to a tavern, but then she, too, falls for him. Gilda is devastated by the Duke’s unfaithfulness, but also horrified by her father’s murder plot. She overhears Maddalena talking Sparafucile into sparing the Duke, and instead killing the next person to enter the tavern. Bravely, Gilda knocks on the door.
When Sparafucile delivers to Rigoletto a body rolled in a rug, the jester at first believes that vengeance is his. Then he hears the Duke singing and discovers the awful truth. A heartbreaking duet between a father and his dying daughter brings down the curtain on a curse fulfilled.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Italian
About 2 hours 35 min + intervals
A magnificent hall in the Ducal palace in Mantua
The hall is beautifully lit up and a crowd of noble people in grand costumes are gathered. The Duke tells the courtier Borsa about the unknown beauty he has seen at church and that he would like to meet her. Some ladies walk by and Borsa comments on their beauty, but the Duke maintains that the Countess Ceprano surpasses them all. Don’t let the Count hear that, says Borsa. The Duke laughs and says: What do I bother? This woman or that, they are all the same. If I favour one today, tomorrow it might be another one. He courts the Countess and leaves with her, while the Count looks at them.
Rigoletto, the hunchbacked court jester, enters and mocks the Count, who grim-faced follows the Duke. A group of courtiers gather around Rigoletto and say: The Duke is out for amusement. Rigoletto responds: Isn’t he always? That’s his lifestyle.
Rigoletto leaves and Marullo, a nobleman, hastily arrives with great news. Rigoletto has a mistress. When the hunchback returns, this time together with the Duke, the courtiers disperse. The Duke tells Rigoletto that he is keen on Countess Ceprano but the Count is a problem. Put him in prison, says the jester, or have him decapitated.
The Count overhears their conversation and draws his sword, but is discouraged by the Duke to use it. The Count is furious at Rigoletto's mocking words and together with the courtiers, who also have a bone to pick with him, they plan to take revenge.
Count Monterone enters and demands to speak to the Duke, who turns him down. Instead Rigoletto intervenes and mocks the old man for complaining about his daughter’s lost honour. Monterone states that he will always raise his voice against those who insult him – even after his death. The Duke orders him to be arrested, but Monterone retorts by accursing both the Duke and Rigoletto. The jester is horrified.
The end of a cul-de-sac. It is night.
Rigoletto is on his way home, still horrified by Monterone’s curse. He is approached by a dark figure who informs him that he can help him get rid of a rival for a modest fee. A nobleman would be more expensive… Not at the moment, answers Rigoletto. But if I need you, where can I find you? I'm here every night. My name is Sparafucile, says the man and disappears. Rigoletto broods on what he's just heard, but then proceeds to a house, surrounded by a garden. He enters the courtyard where he'smet by his daughter Gilda, who wants to learn more about her family. You have no family, replies Rigoletto. He tells her to take good care of herself. Gilda’s nurse, Giovanna comes out and Rigoletto tells her to guard the pure flower that he's entrusted to her. She promises.
In the street the Duke, dressed as a commoner, appears. Rigoletto hears a noise and goes out and the Duke slips in, unseen by Rigoletto, and hides behind a tree. He throws a purse to Giovanna to keep her quiet. Rigoletto returns and warns Gilda to take care, before leaving. Alone with Giovanna, Gilda is remorseful about not telling her father about the young man she's seen at church. She is attracted to him and hopes that he is no nobleman: If he were poor, I think I would love him more. The Duke, having heard everything, now makes himself known, kneels in front of her and declares his love. They embrace and sing a love duet. Gilda then tells him to leave, but asks for his name. Voices outside are being heard, the Duke whispers Gualtier Maldé… I’m a student… and poor. He disappears, after a last embrace. Alone, Gilda speaks his name again, contemplating their romantic moment together.
In the street Ceprano, whose house is next door to Rigoletto’s, and the courtiers have gathered to take revenge on Rigoletto. They are setting up a ladder when Rigoletto returns. He recognises the voice of Marullo, who says that they are going to abduct Ceprano’s wife. Rigoletto is willing to assist and gets a mask, like the others, but Marullo blindfolds him and tells him to hold the ladder. The courtiers climb up to the terrace and force the door to Gilda’s room open and silence her with a handkerchief. When they are carrying her away she loses the handkerchief and cries for her father. He finds out that he has been blindfolded, runs into the house and finds it empty. In despair he shouts: It is the curse!
A salon in the Ducal Palace
The Duke enters, agitated, and complains: She was stolen from me! When I came back the gate was open, the house deserted. And where is she now? Marullo, Ceprano, Borsa and the other courtiers enter. They report that they have captured Rigoletto’s mistress from his house. But where is the poor girl now? the Duke asks. We brought her here, they answer. The Duke is overjoyed and hurries off.
Rigoletto enters in deep distress, searching everywhere. Give me my daughter, he begs the courtiers. He rushes to a door but the courtiers block his way. Then Gilda enters through another door and throws herself into her father’s arms. Rigoletto tells the courtiers to leave the room and they reluctantly obey. When they are alone Gilda tells her father the whole story, and Rigoletto listens in awe. Old Monterone, led by guards, passes through the room on his way to prison. He stops before the Duke’s portrait, and says: I cursed you in vain, so live on! But Rigoletto interrupts him, shouting: No, you are wrong, you shall be avenged! Gilda still begs him to forgive the Duke but Rigoletto is uncompromising.
The right bank of the river Mincio, a slum district with a two-storied tavern half in ruins. On the other side of the river lies Mantua. It is night.
Gilda and Rigoletto are in the street and through the many holes in the wall one can see Sparafucile inside the tavern. Gilda is still enamoured with the Duke and Rigoletto tries to convince her otherwise. Wait and see, he tells her. The Duke, in a cavalry uniform, enters and orders Sparafucile to give him a room for the night and some wine. Sparafucile leaves and the Duke sings the famous aria about women being wayward. Sparafucile returns with a bottle and two glasses. A young girl dressed in a gipsy costume enters the tavern.
Sparafucile goes out into the street and says to Rigoletto: There is your man. Shall he live or die? I’ll come back and settle the matter later, Rigoletto answers. Through the wall Gilda and Rigoletto see how the Duke tries to seduce the gypsy girl, who is Sparafucile’s sister, Maddalena. Gilda sees and hears the Duke speaking the same word to Maddalena as he did to herself. Traitor! she says. Now you know the truth about him, says Rigoletto. He orders Gilda to go back home to get some money and a horse. He asks her to dress in men’s clothing and to ride to Verona, where Rigoletto will join her the next day.
Gilda leaves and Rigoletto contacts Sparafucile and they settle the deal: Ten scudi now and another ten when the job is done. I’ll be back at midnight, says Rigoletto. I want to get rid of the body myself. Maddalena has taken a fancy to the Duke, who now bids good night and goes upstairs to sleep. A thunderstorm rages.
Gilda enters in male clothes and riding boots with spurs. She stands outside and listens to the conversation between Sparafucile and his sister. Maddalena wants to spare the Duke’s life and suggests that they should kill Rigoletto instead so that they won't lose out on the money. But Sparafucile refuses. Have I ever betrayed a client? This man has paid me, I will keep my word. Finally he yields: If someone arrives before midnight, I will kill the other instead of the duke. Gilda overhears the conversation and knocks on the door. Maddalena opens and Sparafucile closes the door behind Gilda. All is silent and dark.
Rigoletto knocks on the door when the clock strikes midnight. He receives the sack with the body, pays Sparafucile, and drags the sack towards the river. Suddenly he hears the voice of the Duke singing. Who is then in the sack? He cuts it open and finds Gilda. She is still alive but will soon die. Rigoletto desperately repeats the words: it is the curse!
Rigoletto – Baritone (dramatic)
The Duke's hunchbacked jester
Gilda – Soprano (lyric coloratura)
Duke of Mantua – Tenor (lyric)
Sparafucile - Bass (basso profondo)
A murderer for hire
Maddalena – Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Giovanna – Mezzo-soprano
Count Ceprano – Bass
Countess Ceprano – Mezzo-soprano
Matteo Borsa - Tenor
Count Monterone - Baritone
Marullo - Baritone
A court usher - Bass
A page - Mezzo-soprano
Place of birth: Le Roncole, Italy
Place of death: Milan, Italy
Verdi is one of our most beloved opera composers with hits like Rigoletto, Aida and Falstaff. He was a very productive composer, writing nearly 30 operas spanning from 1839 to 1893.
In his twenties tragic events unfolded when Verdi lost his two children in infancy and shortly thereafter his first wife. He remarried years later to the renowned soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who became his life companion.
Verdi is known for modernising Italian opera by writing long passages of through-composed music and unifying acts for a more continuous dramatic development. This is more noticeable in his later works. He came to dominate the opera scene after an era of bel canto composers such as Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.
“To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better. ”
Verdi was a food lover, adored Shakespeare and the only piece of chamber music he wrote was a string quartet.
Verdi and Wagner were born in the same year. They were known to be rivals even though they never met.
Most prominent operas
I masnadieri 1847
Luisa Miller 1849
Il trovatore 1853
La traviata 1853
I vespri Siciliani 1855
Simon Boccanegra 1857
Un ballo in maschera 1859
La forza del destino 1862
Don Carlo 1867
The Libretto for Rigoletto was written by Francesco Maria Piave and is based on the play Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo.
Francesco Maria Piave was an Italian librettist, journalist, translator, poet and stage manager at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. He wrote 10 librettos for Verdi of which Rigoletto and La traviata are the most well known. Both operas have a very clear musical form. With Piave, Verdi was allowed to decide how the story would be told in terms of the musical structure and arrangement of pieces.
Piave also wrote librettos for other popular composers of his day. He was even commissioned to write the libretto for Aida but suffered a stroke and could not speak. When Piave died, Verdi helped to support his family and he also paid for his funeral.
2d1, 2d1, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, strings
Rigoletto was premiered at Teatro La Fenice, Venice, in 1851. It was well received and became a box-office success. Apparently the famous aria "La donna é mobile" could be heard sung in the streets the day after the premiere.
Today Rigoletto is one of the top 10 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - Questa o quella (The Duke)
Aria – Pari siamo (Rigoletto)
Duet – Figlia! Mio padre! (Rigoletto, Gilda)
Duet - Giovanna, ho dei rimorsi... E il sol dell'anima (Gilda, The Duke)
Aria – Caro nome (Gilda)
Aria – Ella mi fu rapita (The Duke)
Aria – Parmi veder le lagrime...Possente amor (The Duke)
Aria - Cortigiani (Rigoletto)
Aria – Tutte le feste al tempio (Gilda)
Duet – Si vendetta (Gilda, Rigoletto)
Aria – La donna é mobile (The Duke)
Quartet – Bella figlia dell'amore (The Duke, Maddalena, Gilda, Rigoletto)
Duet – V'ho ingannato, colpevole fui (Gilda, Rigoletto)