Rigoletto, Opera by G. Verdi
The absolute corruption of absolute power and the unavoidable guilt by association form the basis of Rigoletto, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most soul-shaking operas. The story of the acerbic hunchback jester and his morally degraded master is as perennial as time itself, and generations of opera-goers can find parallels between the stark political critique on stage and the political and social inequalities they witness in their own times. Rigoletto was premiered on 11 March 1851 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and this season it is coming back home for a well-deserved new round of applause.
The libretto is courtesy of the great Italian author Francesco Maria Piave who adapted the controversial play Le Roi s'amuse by French writer Victor Hugo. Verdi and Piave had to make numerous adjustments to the story in order to get past the censors who naturally feared a piece of scalding anti-royalist political critique at an unruly time in Italian history. Hence, the plot focuses on the Duke of Mantua, a womanising brute, and his court jester Rigoletto. As the master frivolously dishonours his noblemen’s wives and daughters one after the other, the joker mocks the wronged families with piercing and unkind humour.
But Rigoletto has a well-kept secret: at home, he keeps his beloved daughter Gilda whom he tries as best he can to protect from the court’s loose morals and debauchery. Alas, as if by divine punishment, the Duke discovers the young girl’s existence and immediately seduces her in the guise of a student. When he finds out about their affair, Rigoletto is overcome with rage. His next move will set a tragic and shocking resolution in motion.
Verdi matches the intense plot development with some of his most atmospheric and intriguing orchestration. The arias reveal much about the characters’ internal struggles and motivations, sometimes in parallel like in the wonderful quartet ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’. Rigoletto also contains one of Verdi’s signature arias, Duke Mantua’s ‘La donna è mobile’.