by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Based on Le Roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo
“One of the most emotionally charged and vocally superb performances we’ve seen this year.”
Allegri con Fuoco
“A powerful interpretation of this centuries old classic.”
Cliff Kasden, Home Reporter and Brooklyn Spectator
“The standing ovations and cheers for the singers and the production overall meant another rousing evening of great opera as Regina Opera enters its 45th season.”
Nino Pantano, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
|Rigoletto, hunchback jester to the Duke of Mantua||Baritone|
|Gilda, his daughter||Soprano|
|The Duke of Mantua||Tenor|
|Sparafucile, a hired killer||Bass|
|Maddalena, his sister||Mezzo-Soprano|
|Borsa, a courtier||Tenor|
|Marullo, a courtier||Bass|
|Giovanna, Gilda’s companion||Soprano|
Courtiers, nobles, pages, servants.
Rigoletto is set in Mantua, Italy, in the 16th Century.
At a splendid ball in his palace, the Duke of Mantua boasts to his retainer, Borsa, of his plan to finish his conquest of a young girl whom he has seen at church every Sunday for the last three months. He has found out where she lives, and every night sees a mysterious man enter her house. The Duke has not revealed his identity to the girl. Borsa admires the ladies at the ball, and the Duke is particularly taken with the wife of Count Ceprano. Borsa warns that if Ceprano found out about that, he might tell the other girl. But the Duke doesn’t care; all women are the same to him (“Questa o quella”). As Countess Ceprano passes by, the Duke flirts with her and escorts her out of the room. Rigoletto, the Duke’s hunchbacked jester, mocks the Count, who follows them out in a huff. Rigoletto joins them, laughing.
Marullo, another of the Duke’s retainers, enters with big news: Rigoletto has a mistress! The courtiers suppress their laughter as Rigoletto re-enters with the Duke, who is telling him that Ceprano is a pest and his wife an angel. Rigoletto advises the Duke to carry the Countess off and imprison or execute her husband. Ceprano is enraged; the Duke warns Rigoletto that he’s going too far, but Rigoletto doesn’t care. The courtiers and ladies enjoy the scene immensely. But the fun is interrupted by the sudden entrance of Count Monterone, who threatens the Duke. Rigoletto mocks him for complaining that the Duke has seduced his daughter. Outraged, Monterone swears vengeance. The Duke orders his arrest. As he is led away, Monterone curses Rigoletto for laughing at a father’s grief. Rigoletto is horrified.
Rigoletto is still shivering at Monterone’s curse. A strange man accosts him, showing his sword and offering to free Rigoletto from his “rival” for the lady in the house. The man’s attractive sister will lure the victim to his house, where he will quietly take care of him. Rigoletto declines the offer, but the man tells him that if he ever needs him, his name is Sparafucile, and he can be found in that alley every night. Rigoletto dismisses him, then reflects that they are equals: Rigoletto has his tongue, and Sparafucile his sword (“Pari siamo”). He reflects again on Monterone’s curse, and rails at Nature for making him wicked and deformed, with no choice but to be a buffoon, and no solace but in stinging the scornful courtiers of the Duke.
He shakes off his fears and enters the courtyard of his house, where Gilda, his young daughter, runs to him and throws herself into his arms. Noticing that her father is troubled, she begs him to tell her what is worrying him. Rigoletto has kept his family history a secret; she wants him to tell her who is really is and who her mother was. Rigoletto sighs at his lost love, a woman who loved him despite his deformity and poverty, and then died, leaving Gilda to console him. He will not tell her anything else, only that his universe is in her. Gilda accepts this, but asks if she can go out into the city, as she has been there for three months without seeing anything. Rigoletto adamantly refuses, and pointedly asks if she has already gone out. She denies it, and he warns her to be careful. Secretly, he fears that the courtiers will find her and dishonor her. He calls for the nurse, Giovanna, and questions her about whether anyone has been to the house. She says that no one has been there. He urges her to keep a close watch on Gilda. Gilda soothes him with the thought that her mother is watching over them from heaven.
Rigoletto hears something outside and goes out to investigate. The Duke, disguised in humble clothes, slips into the courtyard and hides behind a tree, silencing Giovanna by throwing her a purse. Rigoletto returns, asking Gilda if anyone ever followed her to church; she denies it. He orders Giovanna never to open the door to anyone, especially the Duke. The Duke, in his hiding place, is stunned to discover that the girl is Rigoletto’s daughter. Father and daughter embrace, and Rigoletto goes on his way.
Gilda is stricken by remorse, for she failed to tell her father about the young man who followed her to church. When Giovanna suggests that he might be a great gentleman, Gilda replies that she would prefer that he be poor, and confesses that in her fantasies she tells him that she loves him...
Repeating, “I love you,” the Duke throws himself at her feet and motions Giovanna to leave. Gilda, frightened, calls for her nurse, but the Duke presses his suit. She asks him to leave, but his flowery words of love have captured her. She admits that she loves him, and asks his name. Meanwhile, outside, Borsa and Ceprano have found Rigoletto’s house. The Duke tells Gilda that he is a poor student named Gualtier Mald. Giovanna warns that she has heard footsteps outide. Fearing that Rigoletto has returned, Gilda urges the Duke to leave. They swear undying love before Giovanna leads him out.
Alone, Gilda reflects on her lover’s name and swears to love him forever (“Caro nome”). Out in the street, however, Ceprano, Borsa, Marullo, and other courtiers, armed and masked, are spying on her. They are stunned by the beauty of Rigoletto’s “mistress.” Meanwhile, Rigoletto blunders onto the scene. It’s too dark for him to see who is there. Marullo identifies himself and tells him that they’re planning to abduct Countess Ceprano for the Duke. To prove it, Marullo hands Rigoletto the key to Ceprano’s nearby palace. Rigoletto likes the plan and asks to be masked like the others. Marullo obliges — with a blindfold — and tells Rigoletto that he is to hold the ladder. The courtiers clamber up the ladder and into Rigoletto’s house. They drag Gilda screaming out the house; she drops a scarf as they take her off. Rigoletto, still holding the ladder, at first enjoys the joke, but then tears off the blindfold. Seeing Gilda’s scarf, he cries out, “Ah! The curse!”
The Duke, having discovered that Gilda has been taken, but not by whom, rails against her abductors and vows revenge (“Ella mi fu rapita... Parmi veder le lagrime”). Marullo and the others arrive with the news that Rigoletto’s mistress has been kidnapped. The Duke, amused, asks them to tell him how it was done, but as they do so, he realizes that it was Gilda who was kidnapped. He is overjoyed to learn that they have brought her to his own palace and runs off to see her.
Meanwhile, Rigoletto shuffles in, singing with repressed grief. The courtiers pretend to feel sorry for him, and ask him what’s new. As he answers sarcastically, he looks around for clues to where Gilda might be. He finds a handkerchief, but it is not hers. When he asks about the Duke, they say that he is sleeping. Just then a page enters with a message from the Duchess. The courtiers firmly turn him away, first saying that he’s out hunting, then that he can’t see anyone right now. Rigoletto realizes that Gilda is with the Duke. The courtiers mock him for losing his mistress, but he reveals that the girl is his daughter. He tries to run into the other room, but they block him. He threatens them, but to no avail (“Cortigiani”). Then he begs for their pity, but they ignore him.
Gilda rushes in, weeping for shame. Rigoletto orders the courtiers to leave. They do so, but plan to stay nearby to watch him. Gilda tells her father about how she saw a handsome young student at church and fell in love with him at first sight; how he suddenly appeared to declare his love; and how she was abducted soon after (“Tutte le feste al tempio”). Rigoletto consoles her and says they can leave after he does what he has to do.
Monterone and his guards pass through on the way to prison. He addresses the Duke’s portrait on the wall, saying that his curse was in vain. As Monterone leaves, Rigoletto swears that he will be avenged (“Sì, vendetta”). He ignores Gilda’s pleas to forgive the Duke, for she loves him in spite of his betrayal.
Rigoletto asks Gilda if she still loves the Duke; she replies she will love him forever, because he loves her. To prove her wrong, he leads her over to a crevice in the wall of Sparafucile’s house and tells her to watch. She can see the Duke enter the room and ask Sparafucile for a room and some wine. The Duke sings of woman’s fickleness (“La donna è mobile”). At Sparafucile’s signal, his sister, Maddalena, comes downstairs. The Duke begins to flirt with her. Meanwhile, Sparafucile comes out of the house, draws Rigoletto aside, and asks if “his man” should live or die. Rigoletto says that he’ll come back later to finish the job. Sparafucile goes off behind the house.
From outside the house, Gilda and Rigoletto watch as the Duke pursues Maddalena. Gilda is in agony but cannot tear herself away, though Rigoletto keeps asking her if this is enough for her (Quartet: “Bella figlia dell’amore”). Rigoletto urges her to go home, change into the male clothing that he has prepared for her as a disguise, and flee to Verona; he will join her tomorrow.
After she leaves, Rigoletto fetches Sparafucile and pays him half the money for the murder. When Rigoletto says he’ll be back at midnight, Sparafucile replies that it isn’t necessary, and offers to take care of throwing the body in the river. But Rigoletto insists on doing that himself. Sparafucile asks the victim’s name. Rigoletto replies as he leaves, “He is Crime, and I am Punishment.”
A storm is brewing. Sparafucile enters the house; the Duke and Maddalena are still flirting. Knowing the plan, she secretly urges the Duke to leave, but he refuses on account of the storm. Sparafucile takes her aside and shows her the money, then offers to put the Duke up for the night. The Duke agrees and, lightly singing his “woman is fickle” tune, falls asleep. Maddalena has fallen for the Duke, but Sparafucile is focused on the money. Meanwhile, the storm is worsening. Gilda reappears outside the house, dressed as a man. She looks through the crevice in the wall and overhears Maddalena trying to convince her brother not to kill the Duke. She suggests that when Rigoletto returns with the rest of the money, they kill him instead. But Sparafucile replies that he is no thief. He suggests that if someone else comes to the house before Rigoletto’s return, that person can die in the Duke’s stead. Maddalena doesn’t think anyone will be coming in such a storm. But this gives Gilda an idea. Seeing Maddalena weep for the Duke makes her determined to substitute her life for his. At the height of the storm, she pounds on the door and cries out that she is a beggar in need of shelter. Sparafucile, now interested only in the money, gets his dagger ready. Maddalena opens the door; Gilda rushes in; Sparafucile strikes as everything goes dark.
The storm has abated. Rigoletto arrives, savoring the moment of vengeance. As midnight strikes, he knocks on the door. Sparafucile informs him that the deed is done, and shows him a sack with a body in it, but refuses to give him a light to look at the body until he is paid the rest of the money. He suggests that they quickly throw him into the water, but Rigoletto wants to do it himself. Sparafucile takes the money and bids him goodnight.
Rigoletto is overjoyed at the success of his plan. He is about to roll the body into the water when he hears the Duke singing his theme song from inside the house. He pounds on the door, but no one answers. Then he cuts open the sack to reveal his own daughter. She is alive but dying. She admits her deceit but she says that she loved the Duke too much, and now she is dying for him. She begs Rigoletto’s forgiveness and promises to pray for him when she is in heaven with her mother. The grieving father begs her to hold on, but she fades away. Crying out, “Ah! The curse!” he falls over her lifeless body.
© 2002 Linda Cantoni