“La donna è mobile”, “Caro nome”…these are only few of the successful arias contained in this Verdi’s Opera where the identity of the Villain is blurred and whose audience will most certainly cries a river.
When the Italian composer decided to adapt Victor Hugo’s “Le Roi s’amuse”, the play, which harshly and straightforwardly criticises the Royal family, had been already censored. As a consequence, this passionate opera went through many ups and downs before making it to the Venice’s Fenice Theatre, where it premiered on the 11 March 1851. Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave had to change a number of different elements such as the setting, titles and names in order to be allowed to stage it.
The action takes place in the opulent palaces of sixteenth century Mantua. The opera revolves around a licentious Duke's efforts to seduce the beautiful daughter of the hunchback Rigoletto.
The Duke of Mantua sings joyfully of his many love affairs. With the help of his hunchbacked jester Rigoletto, the Duke makes fun of the husbands whose wives he has seduced. The jester has a daughter, Gilda, whom he has kept hidden from the Duke, well aware of the Duke's licentious ways. By the end of the act, however, Gilda and the Duke have met, whilst the Duke disguises his real identity. Gilda falls in love with the Duke.
Meanwhile, a group of noblemen employ the jester to help them kidnap a woman, without revealing that the woman is Gilda. Once it is too late, the jester realises that he has unwittingly helped his daughter's kidnappers to carry her away, and is devastated.
The Duke is concerned that Gilda has disappeared. The noblemen arrive and tell the Duke about the woman they have kidnapped. They think that Gilda is the jester's mistress, and do not realise that she is his daughter.
The Duke, however, recognises that the woman is Gilda from the way that the noblemen describe her. The jester and the Duke both attempt to save Gilda, with each swearing to take revenge on the other.
The Duke is in the house of a noble woman, busy seducing her. Gilda and her father arrive. Gilda is still in love with the Duke, but her father attempts to make her realise that the Duke will never be faithful to her. The jester hires an assassin to kill the Duke, to make sure that the Duke can never try and seduce his daughter again. The assassin's sister, Maddalena, informs Gilda of this plan. Gilda dresses as a man and, still in love with the Duke, takes his place and proves her love by being killed in his stead.
The jester is presented with a corpse. Thinking it is the assassinated Duke, he rejoices. Finally, he uncovers the corpse and finds it to be his own daughter. Gilda revives, briefly, and she and her father share a short moment of reconciliation before she dies.
The Duke of Mantua, A rich and licentious man, tenor
Rigoletto, The Duke's court jester, baritone
Gilda, Daughter to the Jester, soprano
Sparafucile, An Assassin, bass
Giovanna, Gilda's nurse, mezzo-soprano
Maddalena, Sister to Sparafucile, mezzo-soprano