The basis of the opera Rigoletto is Victor Hugo’s drama “The King Funs,” banned in France by censorship as undermining the authority of the royal authority. Giuseppe Verdi also had to face obstacles. Part of the score was already written when the censors demanded a radical processing of the libretto. King Francis I, acting with Hugo, turned into the Duke of Mantua, the clown Tribule – in Rigoletto, and the opera itself, originally called “Curse”, was named after the protagonist. Verdi was primarily interested in psychological drama. Hugo’s text has been shortened. The plot acquired a more chamber sound; the emphasis was shifted to showing the personal relationships of the characters in dramatic situations. The composer was also offered to exchange the hunchback jester for a traditional opera handsome, which the maestro strongly opposed. “The singing hunchback?” – wrote Verdi. “Why not?” Will it be impressive? I do not know this; but if I do not know this, then those who proposed to change it do not know either. I just find it tempting to portray this character outwardly ugly, ridiculous and inwardly passionate, full of love. ” And although the interpretation by which the composer subjected the original play provoked a protest from Victor Hugo (because of this, the opera was shown in France only 6 years after the premiere in Venice), Verdi himself considered the Rigoletto plot the best of all that he put to music . The Rigoletto score was completed extremely quickly – in forty days. In the plot, the frivolous, seeking to enjoy the duke is opposed to his court jester, under the stinging mask of which loving and suffering father is hiding. Verdi writes out courtiers as toadies and hypocrites, and Gilda – the daughter of Rigoletto – displays an example of spiritual purity and devotion. The versatility of these characters and the depth of their experiences is emphasized by the musical score. The opera was first staged at the La Fenice Theater in Venice on March 11, 1851.
The action takes place in Mantua and its suburbs in the XVI century.
A profligate Duke of Mantua is giving a brilliant ball in his palace. His attitude towards women is expressed in the frivolous aria of “Questa o quella, per me pari sono” (“That or this – for me it doesn’t matter”). At some point he briefly leaves the stage to see off the wife of one of his courtiers. Suddenly the public fun and dance music is interrupted by a menacing voice. This is the old Count Monterone, who has come here to curse the Duke for the shamed honour of his daughter. At this moment, the Duke’s jester, the humpback Rigoletto, comes forward and he mocks evilly at the old man. Monterone retains dignity. At the very moment, when the duke orders to imprison the count, Monterone threatens the duke with terrible revenge and curses Rigoletto. It is a curse pronounced by an insulted father and Rigoletto, a loving father and very superstitious man, turns away in horror.
Being under the burden of the terrible Monterone’s curse, Rigoletto returns home. Just near his house he comes across a sinister figure. This is Sparafuchile, a hired killer. As a professional to a professional, Sparafuchile offers the court jester his services at any time he needs. While this terrible person leaves, mumbling on a very low voice his own name – “Sparafuchile” – Rigoletto exclaims: “Pari siamo! Io la lingua, egli ha il pugnale” (“With him we are equal: I own the word, and he has a dagger”) and sings a monologue, one of Verdi’s masterpieces, cursing his appearance, his fate, his character. This is followed by a long and very beautiful duet Rigoletto with his daughter, young Gilda (“Figlia! .. Mio padre! ..” – “Gilda! .. My father! ..”). After the death of his wife, Rigoletto didn’t have anyone closer than his daughter, and he desperately wants to protect her from all misfortunes. Leaving the house, he gives the order to Gilda’s maid, Giovanna, to keep all the doors on the locks. The Rigoletto’s order, however, is not executed. Hardly has he left his house, the Duke of Mantua, disguised as a poor student (but having thrown the purse to Giovanna in order to bribe her to open the door for him), enters the garden. Here he is fervently declaring his love to Gilda (“E il sol dell’anima” – “Believe me, love is the sun and roses”). When he leaves, disturbed by some noise in the street, Gilda sings the aria “Caro nome che il mio con” (“The Heart of Joy is Full”). There is some noise in the street … The courtiers have come, who conceived to kidnap Gilda, believing that she is Rigoletto’s mistress, but not his daughter. To make the joke even funnier, they call on Rigoletto to help them, explaining to him that they want to abduct Count Ceprano’s wife, who lives nearby: the jester is blindfolded and they make him hold the stairs while he does not suspect anything. Just after the company has retired with Gilda, Rigoletto strips the blindfold off. Foreseeing something terrible, he rushes into the house. The action ends at the moment when Rigoletto recalls with horror the paternal curse of old Monterone.
The hall in the palace. The Duke is excited. The day before he returned to Gilda’s house, but did not find her there. Now he vows to find the kidnappers and get revenge on them. He sings about his beloved Gilda. His aria (“Parmi veder le lacrime” – “I see a cute dove”) is so expressive that it leaves almost no doubt about the sincerity of his love. When the courtiers tell him – in a humorous, mocking chorus – how they kidnapped Rigoletto’s mistress (they still don’t know that Gilda is his daughter) and brought her to the palace, the Duke hurries to Gilda. Rigoletto enters. He sings, as a court jester should do, the song “La-ra, la-ra, la-ra, la-ra” (“La-ra …”). But this time his funny song is full of anxiety and pain. He is looking for his daughter everywhere, and when for a moment a page appears with a message for the duke, then, according to his words, Rigoletto realizes that his Gilda is here in the duke’s castle, in his bedroom. In indignation and despair, he rushes at the courtiers, shouting: “Cortigiani, vil razza” (“Courtesians, the wickedness of vice”). He is trying to make his way through the crowd to the door; sobbing, he is falling on the floor; he is imploring for them plaintively, but unfortunately, everything is in vain. When Gilda appears, the courtiers bashfully move off. The tearful duet of the father and daughter is interrupted when Monterone passes, being led to execution by guards. Rigoletto vows to revenge on the duke. The action ends with a resolute and harsh repetition of Rigoletto’s oath (“Si, vendetta, tremenda vendetta” – “Yes, the hour of terrible revenge has arrived”). Gilda begs her father to forgive her beloved.
At night Rigoletto is standing at an abandoned inn on the banks of the river, repeating his curses to the Duke. Gilda is still beging to forgive him. The den near which they are, belongs to Sparafuchile, a gangster. This night the Duke is his guest, now he is disguised as an officer. He sings the most popular melody from this opera – the song “La donne e mobile” (“The Heart of the Beautiful …”), then he declares his love to Maddalena, a pretty Sparafuchile’s sister. A magnificent quartet starts: in the den, the Duke is lavishing in his confessions of love to Maddalena, she is answering coquettishly and mockingly; Gilda, peeping behind them outside, is filled with despair of what she has seen. Rigoletto tries to console her. Further events are developing rapidly. Rigoletto sends Gilda to change clothes to go to Verona, a city where nobody knows her or Rigoletto, and where they will start a new life. Rigoletto himself has his own plans for this night. He hires Sparafuchile to kill the Duke. Having come to arrangement upon this, Rigoletto retires. The Duke falls asleep. Now Maddalena persuades her brother to spare the young man whom she has liked and replace the body, killing any stranger who will come to them this night (“Somigla un Apollo quel giovine” – “Our guest, both beautiful and affectionate”). A storm is breaking out. At this time Gilda, dressed in a man’s dress, has returned and witnessed the conversation between Sparafuchile and Maddalena. She knocks on the door of their tavern. Gilda has decided to sacrifice herself to save her unfaithful beloved. Sparafuchile stuns her and puts into the bag. Rigoletto returns, he receives a heavy bag and triumphs, as he is sure that the Duke’s body is in it. But his joy does not last long. From the house comes the familiar voice of the Duke, again singing the song “The Heart of the Beautiful …”. In horror Rigoletto tears the bag and finds his daughter in it. Gilda dies in the arms of his father. When she becomes silent forever, Rigoletto threatens with his fist to the heavens – “Ah! La maledizione!” (“Ah! That is where the elder’s curse is!”). The curse has been fulfilled.
Opera in 3 acts, 4 scenes
Libretto by Francesco Piave based on the drama "Le roi s’amuse" by Victor Hugo