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This article is about the opera named "Rigoletto". If you're looking for the page on the character, see Rigoletto (character)
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Rigoletto
Verdi-rigoletto
Rigoletto Poster
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Premiered La Fenice in Venice on 11 March 1851

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 11 March 1851. Despite serious initial problems with the Austrian censors who had control over northern Italian theatres at the time, the opera had a triumphant premiere and is considered by many to be the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi's middle-to-late career. Its tragic story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto's beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera's original title, La maledizione (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto's encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father.

Composition Edit

Instrumentation Edit

The orchestra calls for 2 flutes, (Flute 2 doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, (Oboe 2 doubles English horn) 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in Eb, D, C, Ab, G, and F, 2 trumpets in C, D, and Eb, 3 trombones, cimbasso, timpani, bass drum and cymbals, and strings.

Offstage: Banda, bass drum, 2 bells, thunder machine Onstage: Violins I and II, violas, and contrabasses

History Edit

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 Francesco Maria 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.[1] Verdi soon stumbled upon Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse. He later explained that "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.".[1] 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.[2]

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."[1] 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, rumours 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. At the time, Piave and Verdi had titled opera La maledizione (The Curse), and this unofficial title was used by Austrian censor De Gorzkowski in an emphatic letter written in December 1850 in which he definitively denied consent to its production calling it "a repugnant [example of] immorality and obscene triviality."[3]

In order not to waste all their work, Piave tried to revise the libretto and was even able to pull from it another operaIl 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.[4] 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. By January 1851 the parties were able to agree that the action of the opera would be moved from the royal court of France to a duchy of France or Italy, and some of the characters would to be renamed. In the new version the Duke reigns over Mantua and belongs to the Gonzaga family. The House of Gonzaga had long been extinct by the mid-19th Century, and the Dukedom of Mantua no longer existed, thus no one could be offended. The scene in which the sovereign retires to Gilda's bedroom would be deleted and the visit of the Duke to the Taverna (inn) was no longer intentional, but provoked by a trick. The hunchback jester (originally called Triboulet) was renamed Rigoletto from a parody of Hugo's play, Rigoletti, ou Le dernier des fous (Rigoletti, or The last of the fools).[5] By 14 January, the opera's definitive title had become Rigoletto.[6]

Verdi finally completed the composition of the opera on 5 February 1851, a little more than month before the premiere, although as he worked on the final stages of Act 3, Piave had already arranged for the sets to be designed. The singers were given some of their music to learn on 7 February. However, Verdi kept at least a third of the score at Busseto. He brought it with him when he arrived in Venice for the rehearsals on 19 February and would continue to refine the orchestration during the rehearsal period.[7] For the première, La Fenice had cast Felice Varesi as Rigoletto, the young tenor Raffaele Mirate as the Duke, and Teresa Brambilla as Gilda (although Verdi would have preferred Teresa De Giuli Borsi).[8] 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 had to swear that he would not sing or even whistle the tune of "La donna è mobile" except during the rehearsals.[9]

Roles Edit

Role Voice type Premiere cast,
11 March 1851[1]
(Conductor: Gaetano Mares)
Rigoletto, the Duke's jester baritone Felice Varesi
Gilda, his daughter soprano Teresa Brambilla
Duke of Mantua tenor Raffaele Mirate
Sparafucile, an assassin bass Paolo Damini
Maddalena, his sister contralto Annetta Casaloni
Giovanna, Gilda's Nurse mezzo-soprano Laura Saini
Count Ceprano bass Andrea Bellini
Countess Ceprano, his wife mezzo-soprano Luigia Morselli
Matteo Borsa, a courtier tenor Angelo Zuliani
Count Monterone baritone Feliciano Ponz
Marullo baritone Francesco De Kunnerth
A Court Usher bass Giovanni Rizzi
A Page mezzo-soprano
Chorus: towns people

Plot Edit

Act 1 Edit

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 walks up to him and offers his services. Rigoletto considers the proposition but finally declines; Sparafucile wanders off, after repeating his own name a few times. 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 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 and does not even know her own father's name.

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 young man she had met at the church, but that she would love him even more if he were a student and poor. As she declares her love, the Duke enters, overjoyed. Gilda, alarmed, calls for Giovanna, unaware that the Duke had sent her away. Pretending to be a student, the Duke convinces Gilda of his love: "E il sol dell'anima" ("Love is the sunshine of the soul"). 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 trade vows of love: "Addio, addio" ("Farewell, farewell"). Alone, Gilda meditates on her love for the Duke, whom she believes is a student: "Gualtier Maldè!... Caro nome" ("Dearest name").

Later, a preoccupied Rigoletto returns: "Riedo!... perché?" ("I've returned!... why?"), while the hostile noblemen outside the walled garden (believing Gilda to be the jester's mistress, unaware she is his daughter) 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: "Zitti, zitti" ("Softly, softly"). With her father's unknowing assistance Gilda is carried away by the noblemen. Upon realizing that it was in fact Gilda who was carried away, Rigoletto collapses, remembering the curse.

Act 2 Edit

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 in which Gilda is being held. 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"). In a duet Rigoletto demands vengeance against the Duke, while Gilda pleads for her lover: "Sì! Vendetta, tremenda vendetta!" ("Yes! Revenge, terrible revenge!").

Act 3 Edit

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 singing "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: "La maledizione!" ("The curse!")

Libretto Edit

Main article: Rigoletto Libretto

References Edit

Notes
  1. List of singers taken from Budden (1984) p. 476. See also San Diego Opera Operapaedia - Rigoletto (Cast)
Sources
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