Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Hugo
First performed: 1851
Jonathan Miller’s ENO production
The action is set in Little Italy, that part of New York under the control of the Mafia, in the 1950s.
A hotel where a San Gennaro party is in progress.
The ‘Duke’, a Mafia boss, boasts of his success with women. He makes advances to Ceprano’s wife while Rigoletto, the barman, taunts her husband relentlessly. Another of the Mafiosi, Marullo, has discovered that Rigoletto keeps a woman hidden at home and Ceprano suggests that they kidnap her in revenge for his humiliating insults. Monterone, whose daughter has been seduced by the ‘Duke’, interrupts the party. He returns Rigoletto’s derision with a curse that strikes terror in the barman – for the woman he keeps hidden is not his mistress, but his daughter.
A dead-end street. The tenement where Rigoletto lives faces Ceprano’s place on the other side of the street.
Rigoletto is accosted by a professional assassin, Sparafucile, as he returns home. Sparafucile warns him that he may need his services to deal with a rival. Rigoletto dismisses him with loathing but acknowledges to himself that he is no better than a paid killer. At home he is met by his daughter, Gilda. Although he keeps her hidden and in ignorance for her protection, she longs to see the city and to know more about her family and situation. Rigoletto refuses to tell her; as he leaves, he fiercely tells his housekeeper, Giovanna, to be sure to let no one in. But the’Duke’, who has seen Gilda at church, has already arranged with Giovanna to admit him. He discovers that Gilda has already fallen in love with him and, when he tells her he is just a student but that he loves her, she is overjoyed.
The kidnappers collect in the street. Marullo tricks Rigoletto into joining the plot under the illusion that they intend to abduct Ceprano’s wife. Only after Gilda has been taken does he realize the deception.
(n/a) The hotel, as in Act I. Next morning. Returning on impulse to Rigoletto’s home, the ‘Duke’ found that Gilda had disappeared. He now senses for the first time a feeling of lasting affection and of great loss. His mood changes to delight when his gang tell him that they have brought her to his bedroom. Rigoletto pretends indifference while he searches desperately for some clue to where Gilda may be. The gang have reduced him to abject pleading by the time Gilda herself appears. In a terrible rage he swears to be revenged on the ‘Duke’ for dishonouring her; nothing she can do can dissuade him.
A dilapidated riverside bar outside the city. About a month later. Night.
Rigoletto has hired Sparafucile to kill the ‘Duke’, who has made an assignation with the killer’s sister, Maddalena. Gilda, still in love, is brought by Rigoletto to see her lover’s true character displayed as he seduces another woman. Rigoletto sends her home to prepare to leave the city in disguise. But she returns to hear Maddalena persuade her brother not to murder the ‘Duke’ if anyone else should come in time for them to substitute one body for the other. She resolves to sacrifice herself for him. At the climax of a violent storm, she goes into the bar. Rigoletto returns at midnight to collect his victim. He gloats over the body in the sack until the unmistakable sound of the ‘Duke’s’ voice is heard. Horrified, Rigoletto tears open the sack to find his daughter, stabbed and dying. Monterone’s curse has been fulfilled.
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