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The womanizing Duke of Mantua abuses his power to seduce the wives and daughters of his subjects, while his hunchbacked jester, Rigoletto, adds insult to injury by ridiculing them. One day Rigoletto’s joke goes too far and he is cursed by one of his victims, leading the Duke to set his sights on Rigoletto’s naïve, young daughter, Gilda. Furious at the Duke, Rigoletto plots to take his revenge, only to have his plans backfire with deadly consequences.
Fast-paced and powerful, this is Verdi at his best with an unforgettable story about honour and the steep price of revenge. You’ll recognize melody after melody from the tenor’s arrogant ‘La donna è mobile’ to the soprano’s wistful ‘Caro nome’. Rigoletto is a traditional Italian classic that is both timeless and timely.
RUN TIME: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including 1 intermission)
CONDUCTED BY ROBERT TWETEN
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL CAVANAGH
Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography
The Duke of Mantua, surveying his court, muses about a lovely, innocent girl he's recently seen at church. He is soon distracted by the many women with whom he might amuse himself in the meantime. He selects the Countess Ceprano, who is flattered but nervous; her husband is present. His court jester, Rigoletto, takes the lead in solving the impasse, humiliating the Count Ceprano in the process. Marullo enters with news for his fellow courtiers that Rigoletto has a mistress hidden in the town. The Duke, increasingly frustrated, discusses his dilemma with Rigoletto, who suggests the following alternatives for Ceprano: prison, exile, or beheading. Ceprano and the courtiers are outraged and swear vengeance on Rigoletto for his continual mockery of them. Monterone, an old nobleman, interrupts the party to denounce the Duke and his dissolute court. With the Duke’s consent, Rigoletto ridicules the old man and his dishonored daughter. Monterone curses both Rigoletto and the Duke for laughing at a father’s grief. Rigoletto suddenly fears for the safety of his own daughter, whom he has kept carefully hidden from the court.
Returning home later that evening, Rigoletto is accosted by Sparafucile, who offers his services as a hired killer. Rigoletto spurns his offer and then reflects on their encounter. He sees Sparafucile as his alter ego: one kills with a sword, the other with words. Monterone’s curse continues to haunt him.
Rigoletto greets his daughter, Gilda, at home, declaring that she means the world to him. She reciprocates his feelings but questions why he has kept her concealed. He fears the courtiers and warns the housemaid to guard Gilda carefully. Hearing a noise in the street, he goes out to investigate. The Duke, disguised as a student, takes the opportunity to sneak in and is astonished to discover the girl he has seen in church is Rigoletto’s daughter. Rigoletto leaves, allowing The Duke to surprise Gilda and declare his love. She eventually reciprocates but then, fearing Rigoletto’s return, urges him to leave. Left alone, Gilda rhapsodizes on the false name of the “student,” Gualtier Maldè. Meanwhile, outside the walls, the courtiers gather to kidnap the woman they believe to be Rigoletto’s mistress, to present her to the Duke in revenge against the jester. Rigoletto returns to find the courtiers near his house, but they fool him into thinking they have come to kidnap Countess Ceprano who lives next door. After the ruse is complete, Rigoletto discovers that his daughter has been abducted and he has only himself - and Monterone's curse - to blame.
The Duke, unaware of what has occurred, laments the fact that when he returned to Gilda’s house he found it deserted. The courtiers describe how they kidnapped Rigoletto’s mistress. The Duke realizes it is Gilda and rushes off to be with her. When Rigoletto enters, a remark from the page alerts him to Gilda’s whereabouts. He rages at his tormentors but is soon reduced to begging them for pity. When Gilda bursts onto the scene, Rigoletto orders the courtiers to leave him alone with his daughter. She explains how she met the Duke, whom she had taken to be a student, at church. She insists theirs was a pure love but now she is devastated by the disappointment she has brought to her father. Rigoletto comforts her. Monterone, on the way to his beheading, laments that no one has yet struck down his daughter’s seducer. Rigoletto promises to do so. Gilda begs mercy for the Duke, still believing him worthy of redemption.
Rigoletto has brought Gilda to Sparafucile’s inn to show her the real nature of the man she loves. The Duke, once again incognito, flirts with Sparafucile’s sister and accomplice, Maddalena. Gilda laments his faithlessness, but is still determined to love him. Rigoletto sends her home and hires Sparafucile to kill the Duke. Maddalena, moved by the Duke's passionate seduction, urges her brother to spare him. He reluctantly agrees, provided another victim can be found as a substitute so that he can keep his pact with Rigoletto. Gilda, in defiance of her father’s orders, returns and presents herself as a sacrifice after overhearing the siblings' conversation. Rigoletto returns to gloat over his victim and is given a body in a sack. Hearing the Duke’s voice in the distance, he quickly opens the sack to discover his daughter Gilda, in the last moments of life. Rigoletto is desperate to save her but she dies, offering forgiveness for both her father and her betrayer. Monterone’s curse has been fulfilled.