Rigoletto is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi. The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo. It was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851. It is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi's middle-to-late career.
Verdi was commissioned to write a new opera by the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1850, at a time when he was already a well-known composer with a degree of freedom in choosing the works he would prefer to set to music. He then asked Piave (with whom he had already created Ernani, I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il Corsaro and Stiffelio) to examine the play Kean by Alexandre Dumas, père, but he felt he needed a more energetic subject to work on.
Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse. He later explained that "It contains extremely powerful positions ... The subject is great, immense, and has a character that is one of the most important creations of the theatre of all countries and all Ages". It was a highly controversial subject and Hugo himself had already had trouble with censorship in France, which had banned productions of his play after its first performance nearly twenty years earlier (and would continue to ban it for another thirty years). As Austria at that time directly controlled much of Northern Italy, it came before the Austrian Board of Censors. Hugo's play depicted a king (Francis I of France) as an immoral and cynical womanizer, something that was not accepted in Europe during the Restoration period.
From the beginning, Verdi was aware of the risks, as was Piave. In a letter which Verdi wrote to Piave: "Use four legs, run through the town and find me an influential person who can obtain the permission for making Le Roi s'amuse." Correspondence between a prudent Piave and an already committed Verdi followed, and the two remained at risk and underestimated the power and the intentions of Austrians. Even the friendly Guglielmo Brenna, secretary of La Fenice, who had promised them that they would not have problems with the censors, was wrong.
At the beginning of the summer of 1850, rumors started to spread that Austrian censorship was going to forbid the production. They considered the Hugo work to verge on lèse majesté, and would never permit such a scandalous work to be performed in Venice. In August, Verdi and Piave prudently retired to Busseto, Verdi's hometown, to continue the composition and prepare a defensive scheme. They wrote to the theatre, assuring them that the censor's doubts about the morality of the work were not justified but since very little time was left, very little could be done. The work was secretly called by the composers The Malediction (or The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski (who evidently had known of it from spies) to enforce, if needed, the violent letter by which he definitively denied consent to its production.
In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another opera Il Duca di Vendome, in which the sovereign was substituted with a duke and both the hunchback and the curse disappeared. Verdi was completely against this proposed solution and preferred instead to have direct negotiations with censors, arguing over each and every point of the work.
At this point Brenna, La Fenice's secretary, showed the Austrians some letters and articles depicting the bad character but the great value of the artist, helping to mediate the dispute. In the end the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera had to be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, as well as a renaming of the characters. In the Italian version the Duke reigns over Mantova and belongs to the Gonzaga family: the Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantova did not exist anymore, so nobody could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires in Gilda's bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was not intentional anymore, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback (originally Triboulet) became Rigoletto (from French rigolo = funny). The name of the work too was changed.
For the première, Verdi had Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresina Brambilla as Gilda (though Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi). Teresina Brambilla was a well-known soprano coming from a family of singers and musicians; one of her nieces, Teresa Brambilla, was the wife of Amilcare Ponchielli.
The opening was a complete triumph, especially the scena drammatica, and the Duke's cynical aria, "La donna è mobile", was sung in the streets the next morning.
Due to the high risk of unauthorised copying, Verdi had demanded the maximum secrecy from all his singers and musicians. Mirate had use of his score only a few evenings before the première and was forced to swear he would not sing or even whistle the tune of "La donna è mobile".
Many years later, Giulia Cori, Varesi's daughter, described her father's performance at the premiere. Playing the original Rigoletto, her father was really uncomfortable with the false hump he had to wear; he was so uncertain that, even though he was quite an experienced singer, he had a panic attack when it was his turn to enter the stage. Verdi immediately realised he was paralysed and roughly pushed him on the stage, so he appeared with a clumsy tumble. The audience, thinking it was a gag, was very amused.
The UK premiere took place on 14 May 1853 at what is now the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London. In the US, the opera was first seen on 19 February 1855 at New York's Academy of Music.
In modern times, it has become a staple of the standard operatic repertoire and it appears as number nine on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.
11 March 1851
(Conductor: - )
|Rigoletto, the Duke's jester
|Gilda, his daughter
|Duke of Mantua
|Sparafucile, an assassin
|Maddalena, his sister
|Giovanna, Gilda's Nurse
|Countess Ceprano, his wife
|Matteo Borsa, a courtier
||Francesco De Kunnerth
|A Court Usher
|Chorus: towns people
- Place: Mantua
- Time: the Sixteenth century
Scene 1: A room in the palace
At a ball in his palace, the Duke sings of a life of pleasure with as many women as possible (Questa o quella - "This woman or that"). He has seen an unknown beauty in church and desires to possess her, but he also wishes to seduce the Countess of Ceprano. Rigoletto, the Duke's hunchbacked court jester, mocks the husbands of the ladies to whom the Duke is paying attention, and advises the Duke to get rid of them by prison or death. Marullo informs the noblemen that Rigoletto has a "lover", and the noblemen cannot believe it. The noblemen resolve to take vengeance on Rigoletto. Subsequently Rigoletto mocks Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke had seduced. Count Monterone is arrested at the Duke's order and curses the Duke and Rigoletto. The curse genuinely terrifies Rigoletto.
Scene 2: A street, with the courtyard of Rigoletto's house
Thinking of the curse, Rigoletto approaches his house and is accosted by the assassin Sparafucile, who offers his services. Rigoletto contemplates the similarities between the two of them (Pari siamo! - "We are alike!"); Sparafucile kills men with his sword, and Rigoletto uses "a tongue of malice" to stab his victims. Rigoletto (the hunchback and jester) opens a door in the wall and returns home to his daughter Gilda. They greet each other warmly (Figlia!" "Mio padre! - "Daughter!" "My father!"). Rigoletto has been concealing his daughter from the Duke and the rest of the city, and she does not know her father's occupation. Since he has forbidden her to appear in public, she has been nowhere except to church.
When Rigoletto has gone, the Duke appears and overhears Gilda confess to her nurse Giovanna that she feels guilty for not having told her father about a student she had met at the church, but that she would love him even more if he were poor. Just as she declares her love, the Duke enters, overjoyed, convincing Gilda of his love, though she resists at first. When she asks for his name, he hesitantly calls himself Gualtier Maldè. Hearing sounds and fearing that her father has returned, Gilda sends the Duke away after they quickly repeat their vows of love to each other. Alone Gilda meditates on her love for the student (Gualtier Maldè! ... Caro nome - "Dearest name").
Later, the hostile noblemen outside the walled garden (believing Gilda to be the jester's mistress) get ready to abduct the helpless girl. Convincing Rigoletto that they are actually abducting the Countess Ceprano, they blindfold him and use him to help with the abduction. He assists them, and Gilda is carried away by the noblemen. Upon realizing that it was in fact Gilda who was carried away, Rigoletto collapses, remembering the curse.
American tenor Jan Peerce
as the Duke of Mantua, a role he performed and recorded several times.
The Duke's Palace
The Duke is concerned that Gilda has disappeared (Ella mi fu rapita! - "She was stolen from me!" and Parmi veder le lagrime - "I seem to see tears"). The noblemen then enter and inform him that they have captured Rigoletto's mistress. By their description, he recognizes it to be Gilda, and he rushes off to the room where she is held (Possente amor mi chiama - "Mighty love beckons me"). Pleased by the Duke's strange excitement, the courtiers now make sport with Rigoletto, who enters singing. He tries to find Gilda by pretending to be uncaring, as he fears she may fall into the hands of the Duke. Finally, he admits that he is in fact seeking his daughter and asks the courtiers to return her to him (Cortigiani, vil razza dannata - "Accursed race of courtiers"). The men beat up Rigoletto after his attempt to run into the room Gilda is being held in. Gilda rushes in and begs her father to send the people away. The men leave the room believing Rigoletto has gone mad. Gilda describes to her father what has happened to her in the palace (Tutte le feste al tempio - "On all the blessed days"). Rigoletto demands vengeance against the Duke, while Gilda pleads for him (Duet: Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta! - "Yes! Revenge, terrible revenge!").
A street outside Sparafucile's house
A portion of Sparafucile's house is seen, with two rooms open to the view of the audience. Rigoletto and Gilda, who still loves the Duke, arrive outside. The Duke's voice can be heard (La donna è mobile- "Woman is fickle") laying out the infidelity and fickle nature of women. Rigoletto makes Gilda realize that it is the Duke who is in the assassin's house and that he is attempting to seduce Sparafucile's sister, Maddalena.(Bella figlia dell'amore - "Sweet daughter of love")
Rigoletto bargains with the assassin, who is ready to murder his guest for money, and offers him 20 scudi for killing the Duke. He orders his daughter to put on a man's clothes in order to prepare to go to Verona and states that he plans to follow later. With falling darkness, a thunderstorm approaches and the Duke determines to remain in the house. Sparafucile assigns to him the ground floor sleeping quarters.
Gilda, who still loves the Duke despite knowing him to be unfaithful, returns dressed as a man. She overhears Maddalena begging for the Duke's life, and Sparafucile promises her that if by midnight another can be found in place of the Duke, he will spare the Duke's life. Gilda resolves to sacrifice herself for the Duke and enters the house. She is immediately mortally wounded and collapses.
At midnight, when Rigoletto arrives with money, he receives a corpse wrapped in a sack, and rejoices in his triumph. Weighting it with stones, he is about to cast the sack into the river when he hears the voice of the Duke singing a reprise of his "La donna è mobile" aria. Bewildered, Rigoletto opens the sack and, to his despair, discovers his mortally wounded daughter. For a moment, she revives and declares she is glad to die for her beloved (V'ho ingannato - "Father, I deceived you"). She dies in his arms. Rigoletto's wildest fear materializes when he cries out in horror: "The curse!"
Franz Liszt produced a piano reduction of the famous quartet from Act 3 of Rigoletto called Rigoletto Paraphrase.
See Rigoletto discography.
- ^ Holden, Amanda (ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001, p. 991. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
- ^ OPERA America's "The Top 20" list of most-performed operas
- ^ List of singers taken from Budden, Julian: The Operas of Verdi (Cassell), vol 1, p. 476.
- ^ San Diego Opera Operapaedia - Rigoletto (Cast)
- ^ The synopsis is taken from Leo Melitz, The Opera Goer's Complete Guide, 1921 version, with updated English for clarity.
- ^ Description in the original libretto: "Sala magnifica nel palazzo ducale, con porte nel fondo che mettono ad altre sale, pure splendidamente illuminate. Folla di Cavalieri e Dame che passeggiano nelle sale del fondo - Paggi che vanno e vengono - Nelle sale in fondo si vedrà ballare. Da una delle sale vengono parlando fra loro il Duca e Borsa." English translation: "A magnificent room in the ducal palace, with doors at the back which give onto other rooms, also splendidly illuminated. A crowd of lords and ladies stroll about in the rear rooms - pages come and go - in the rooms at the back people can be seen dancing. The Duke and Borsa come out of one of the rooms conversing with each other."
- The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
- Rigoletto: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project.
- Rigoletto piano vocal score from Indiana University's Online Opera Scores Database
- Rigoletto synopsis from the Metropolitan Opera
- Rigoletto DVD from the Piazza del Campo, Siena
- Rick, a 2003 film written by Daniel Handler (of the Lemony Snicket series), directed by Curtiss Clayton. Based on the opera, the film chronicles the tragic fall of a cursed Wall Street second banana cursed by a job applicant, Rick O'Lette, who tries to get rid of his vile boss, "Duke," through the services of an assassin, Buck, but instead loses his daughter, Eve.
- Rigoletto MP3 Recording with Creative Commons License
- San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles: Verdi's Rigoletto