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Opera in three acts
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo's play Le Roi s'amuse (1832)
First performed March 11th 1851, Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Sung in Italian with German surtitles
ca. 2hrs 30 mins, including one interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance
Rigoletto Quinn Kelsey / Francesco Landolfi
Gilda Brenda Rae / Louise Alder
The Duke of Mantua Mario Chang
Sparafucile Önay Köse
Maddalena Ewa Płonka
Giovanna Nina Tarendek
Count of Monterone Magnús Baldvinsson
Marullo Iurii Samoilov / Ludwig Mittelhammer*
Borsa Michael McCown
Count of Ceprano Mikołaj Trąbka*
Countess of Ceprano Julia Dawson*
* Member of the Opera Studio
The hunchback court jester Rigoletto, his daughter Gilda and his master, the Duke of Mantua, seem almost chained together in this gloomy nocturne. They are the protagonists in a tragic story about sick, damaged souls driven, inescapably, by their fate. Rigoletto humiliates people and stirs up trouble amongst them. He keeps Gilda imprisoned in an elaborate world of illusion which allows her no room for development. She is so naive that one exchanged glance with the duke was enough to start her dreaming of what it would feel like to live in love and freedom. She cannot get rid of this feeling. She identifies with deceitful freedom and sacrifices her life to save the duke. Her father loses everything in the end, in a world deserted by gods and morals.
»This figure is one of the greatest creations that theatres in all countries and times can boast of«, said Verdi to his librettist Francesco Maria Piave, referring to the court jester Triboulet in Victor Hugo's play. When asked to write a new opera for the Teatro La Fenice in Venice Verdi's central character was not the royal debauchee but the court jester, who grew into a larger than life, revenge seeking figure. That the subject matter would cause problems with censors, as Victor Hugo found out, was clear. After a few alterations the world premiere took place in March 1851 – and the audience was thrilled! Rigoletto was the composer's 16th opera and a milestone in his career. His »years as a galley slave« were over – with this work he finally conquered the world.
Act I The Duke of Mantua's court. Courtiers and the duke's hunchback jester Rigoletto amuse themselves. The duke seduces and then abandons women to pass the time. He mocks their husbands. He has not yet concluded his latest adventure with a young woman. Every Sunday, for three months, he has watched her in church. With the help of Rigoletto's stinging tongue the duke humiliates Countess Ceprano in front of her husband. When Rigoletto suggests that cuckolded Count Ceprano be executed, the mood suddenly turns against him. The courtiers demand revenge for Rigoletto's maliciousness. Marullo reveals that the hunchback keeps a secret lover at home. Count Monterone interrups the party. He intends to be avenged for his daughter, who the duke and his men dishonoured. When Rigoletto mocks the despairing father, Monterone curses the duke and his jester. Rigoletto cannot get Monterone's curse out of his mind. Out on the street Sparafucile, a professional assassin, and his sister Maddalena offer their services. Rigoletto sees his mirror image in the murderer: Sparafucile kills with a dagger, he with his humiliating words. Rigoletto bemoans his fate and tries to justify his actions to himself. He comes home, where his daughter Gilda is locked away from the outside world, looked after by her governess Giovanna. Gilda means everything to her father. She grew up in a convent and only came to live with him three months ago. Gilda longs for life and freedom. Rigoletto avoids answering her questions about her dead mother and his name. He goes out again, ordering Giovanna to guard his daugher well. The duke, disguised as a poor student Gualtier Maldé, forces his way into the room. He proclaims his love for her, which Gilda immediately returns. She is overjoyed. Footsteps are heard, the duke is sent away. Gilda falls into a reverie about her beloved's name. The courtiers break into the house to steal Rigoletto's supposed lover. Rigoletto, his eyes bound, takes part in the crime in the mistaken belief that they are abducting Countess Ceprano. Too late, he realises that he has helped steal his own daughter. Act II The duke is desolate that his beloved seems to have been stolen from him. When coutiers report that she has been carried away by his men and brought to court, he hurries to her. Rigoletto is looking for his daughter, mocked by the courtiers. When it emerges that she is with the duke, he demands that she be returned to him. He is beside himself with rage, then pleads with the courtiers. Gilda appears and admits to her father that she loves the duke. Rigoletto sees his daughter disgraced and his life destroyed. In another towering rage, he sees Monterone's ghost. Rigoletto swears bloody vengeance and intends to leave the city with Gilda, for ever. Act III Gilda loves the duke, despite everything. Rigoletto tries to show her his true character. He makes her watch as her beloved, disguised as a soldier, enjoys himself with the prostitute Maddalena, Sparafucile's sister. Rigoletto orders his daughter to leave the city, dressed as a man, and hires Sparafucile to kill the duke. Thunder clouds gather. Gilda has secretly come back and overhears how Maddalena and Sparafucile argue about whether the duke should be murdered. Maddalena feels sorry for him and persuades her brother to kill the first guest who knocks on the door before midnight, instead of the duke. Gilda enters, sacrificing her life for the duke. Rigoletto comes to collect the body bag. He is about to dispose of it in triumph when he hears the duke's voice. He opens the sack and finds his dying daughter.