“Rigoletto,” an opera in three acts with music by Giuseppe Verdi and text by Piave, adapted from Victor Hugo’s drama ” Le Roi s’Amuse,” was first produced in Venice, March 11, 1851.
Rigoletto, a hunchback, jester to the Duke. The Duke of Mantua, a roué. Gilda, daughter of Rigoletto. Sparafucile, a hired assassin. Maddalena, his sister. Count Monterone. Count Ceprano. Courtiers, pages, servants.
The scene is laid in Mantua. The Duke is a youth whose debauchery knows no bounds and no woman, be she maid or wife, is safe from his wicked machinations, which gain in dangerousness from his personal beauty and bravery.
He is valuably aided and abetted in his campaign of vice by Rigoletto, the court buffoon. These wretches are, at the beginning of the opera, counting among their latest successes the seduction of the wife of Count Ceprano and the daughter of Count Monterone. Both injured men swear vengeance, Count Monterone forcing an entrance into the presence of the Duke and demanding reparation for the dishonor brought upon his house. The heartless jester mimics the voice of his master and scorns and insults the old noble, who, for his expressions of indignation, is seized and conveyed to prison. He goes but not before he has hurled at the hunchback a dread imprecation. The incident of the curse greatly disturbs the calm of the jester but does not deter him in his villainies.
The courtiers, disgusted with Rigoletto’s conduct, devise a clever punishment. They resolve to secure for the Duke, Gilda, whom they suppose to be Rigoletto’s mistress but who is, in reality, his daughter and the apple of his eye. He shields her so carefully from the world that her existence is barely known. However, the Duke, keen to discover a new beauty, has found her out and gained her love, pretending to be a poor student named Gualtier Malde. The Duke and his supporters make believe that they are planning to abduct Ceprano’s wife and the unsuspecting Rigoletto assists in the plot to convey Gilda to the Duke’s apartment. When Rigoletto discovers that he has been duped, he is so enraged that he secures the services of Sparafucile, a hired assassin, and plans to have the Duke killed. The Duke is lured to the assassin’s house by the beauty of Maddalena. who like all women is charmed with the handsome noble, and pleads with her brother to spare his life. At first Sparafucile refuses but finally compromises by agreeing to kill in his place the first person who comes to the house. Gilda, disguised by her father in masculine attire to aid in her escape to Verona, is first brought to the house to spy upon her lover’s unfaithfulness and be cured of her infatuation. Overhearing the conversation in Sparafucile’s house and learning of the plot to kill the Duke, who is sleeping there, she rushes in to warn him but as she opens the door she receives the assassin’s dagger. Rigoletto following has given to him by Sparafucile a body in a sack. He is about to cast it into the river, when he hears the Duke pass by with a song on his lips. Hastily opening the sack, he is crazed to discover the body of his own daughter. She dies in his arms and her father sinks to the ground overcome by horror. Monterone’s curse has been accomplished.
” Rigoletto ” is esteemed to be one of the finest of the Verdi operas and this despite its horrible and improbable plot and its array of despicable characters.
Among the important numbers in the brilliantly melodious score are, in Act I, the Duke’s aria, boasting of his inconstancy, ” Questa o quella” (” This one or that one”); Rigoletto’s soliloquy, after his interview with the assassin, ” Pari siamo ” (” Similar are we “) ; and in Act II, the duet for Gilda and the Duke, “Addio” (“Farewell”) and Gilda’s florid love song, ” Caro nome” (” Dearest name”), and in Act III occur the Duke’s graceful aria, “La donna è mobile” (” To change is a woman’s way”) and that masterpiece of the opera as well as one of the most perfect ensembles to be found in the entire range of opera, the quartet for Rigoletto, Gilda, the Duke and Maddalena, “Lovely Maiden, to thy charms.”