An opera from Giuseppe Verdi’s mature period, Rigolettois the first opera in a so-called “popular” trilogy that Verdi continued with Il Trovatoreand La Traviata.“Popular” in the sense that the all-consuming melodies follow one another at a frenetic pace, with arias and choruses that immediately entered the collective imagination and are perfectly integrated into the drama, which was inspired by a play by Victor Hugo.Furthermore, this Rigoletto may be the first of Verdi’s masterpieces to probe the pangs of the heart with such modesty and delicacy, and the first to do away completely with the heroic and martial finery of the works of his youth to linger – in indescribably beautiful duets – over these father-daughter relationships that exalt the composer’s palette.Behind the mask of the jester Rigoletto, Verdi the painter undertakes a long, sublime search for human truth.
In and around Mantua, in the 16thcentury, Rigoletto, jester to the Duke of Mantua, a depraved seducer, is secretly protecting his daughter Gilda from dangers and from others’ looks.And so Count Monterone’s curse on him terrifies Rigoletto, whose court-jester costume hides a loving and protective father.Seduced by the Duke of Mantua and then carried off by courtiers who take her to their master’s bedroom, Gilda burns with passion for her fickle lover, her first love.Rigoletto feels dishonoured and undertakes revenge against the Duke, who runs off to get his fill of other women once Gilda has been seduced.The jester hires the assassin Sparafucile to kill the Duke in the middle of the night.But Gilda, smitten to the end by the man who conquered her, slips secretly into his place just as the assassin strikes, and falls under his shots.the shattered Rigoletto finds the body of his daughter:it is the final part of Monterone’s curse.
At a sumptuous fete in his palace, the Duke of Mantua boasts of inconstancy and the pleasures of the flesh, and declares that he is assiduously pursuing a girl he spotted a few months earlier. But he has managed to meet her only in church. Enter Count Monterone, beside himself with anger and shame, for the Duke has dishonoured his daughter. The hunchback Rigoletto, the Duke’s jester, defends his master and ridicules Monterone. He immediately regrets his words when Monterone curses him: how dare he laugh at the pain of a wounded father? Rigoletto is genuinely moved by this curse; when he is far from the professional cynicism and poisonous atmosphere of the court, he becomes another man, a loving father who thinks of only one thing: protecting Gilda, his cherished daughter, from the world around them.
Gilda has promised her father never to leave the house. But a few moments of inattentiveness are enough for the Duke of Mantua to enter Rigoletto’s home incognito. At first alone, Gilda sings of her love for the young man who followed her to church, without knowing that it was the Duke: the Duke, in disguise, appears just at that moment and joins her in a tender and passionate love duet. The Duke flees suddenly, leaving Gilda daydreaming and lovingly repeating the false name he gave her: « Gualtier Maldé…»
Gilda has been abducted by the courtiers who want to take revenge for Rigoletto’s mockeries. Desperate at having lost his daughter, the jester wanders through the palace before quickly realising that his daughter is there, not far from him, in the company of the Duke of Mantua with whom she has spent the night. He swears at the courtiers before falling at their feet, begging that she be returned to him…
Excerpt : "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata"
Rigoletto has sworn to take revenge on the Duke, who has flouted his daughter’s honour, by having him killed. The hired assassin Sparafucile will do the deed. Gilda has accompanied her father to the killer’s hovel; whilst the girl reaffirms the purity of her love for the Duke of Mantua, Rigoletto invites her to look through a crack in the wall: crushed, she sees the inebriated Duke seducing Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister. He sings the praises of drunken unfaithfulness.
Gilda understands her father’s plan but cannot bring herself to let him have the Duke killed. More than ever smitten with her seducer, she decides to sacrifice herself for him and takes the shots fired by Sparafucile. When Rigoletto returns and grasps the sack containing the victim, he discovers, as if suddenly gone mad, his dying daughter. A final duet brings them together, and Gilda begs his forgiveness before dying. Rigoletto is destroyed: Monterone’s curse has taken his daughter.