First performed at La Fenice, Venice in 1851
The opera starts at a palace ball, where the Duke is boasting to a courtier about the women that have been seduced by him, laughing easy conquests, and mentions another lady that he spotted in church but he also wants the Countess of Ceprano. Rigoletto, the court jester, joins in mocking the husbands -he has a sharp tongue. Another guest picks up on what is being said revealing that even Rigoletto has a lover (unaware the young girl is not a lover, but his daughter he is hiding from the Duke). Others overhear who determine to get their revenge on Rigoletto for his cruel tongue; they huddle together to plot.
The elderly Count de Monterone, whose daughter has been seduced by the Duke, arrives at the ball to confront him. Rigoletto provokes him further, laughing at him, but he is determined to have his say and gets himself arrested by the guards.
As he is taken off, he curses the Duke and Rigoletto, terrifying the jester who believes the myth that an old man’s curse is effective. Rigoletto is musing on the curse as he walks home but is disturbed by Sparafucile, an assassin
asking him for work but Rigoletto has no need for him at the moment and Sparafucile leaves.
Rigoletto enters his house to be greeted by his daughter, Gilda who never leaves the house except for church. She confesses to her maid that she should tell her father that she has fallen in love with a man who attended church but would have loved him more if he had been a starving student!
The Duke, lurking outside to meet Rigoletto’s “lover”, hears this and enters the house. Gilda is scared and calls for her maid, he tells her not to worry, he is a starving student who wanted to meet the owner of the lovely voice that he heard in the street, and applies his charms to seduce her. After giving a false name he leaves again hearing her father approaching.
The courtiers who seek revenge have followed him home and are lurking behind the walled garden. They encounter Rigoletto and persuade him that they are taking the Countess of Ceprano for the Duke and ask for his help, they are all masked and give Rigoletto one, then also blindfold him and make him hold a ladder against the wall for them. Quietly they grab Gilda and make off with her. After they are gone, Rigoletto removes the blindfold only to realise they have taken his daughter.
The Duke’s courtiers come to tell him that they have captured Rigoletto’s lover and have locked her in a room in the palace, describing her, he realises it is Gilda and quickly goes to the room. Rigoletto enters the palace nonchalantly, seeking his daughter the courtiers pretend they have not seen him and huddle together laughing at him.
A servant enters seeking the duke, his mistress wants him urgently but the courtiers say the Duke cannot be disturbed, Rigoletto realises what is going on and tries to enter the room but is blocked by the courtiers, he reveals Gilda is his daughter to no avail.
Gilda eventually wanders out and he tries to console her furiously ordering the courtiers to leave. The guards lead Monterono to his execution bemoaning the fact his curse had no effect on the Duke and Rigoletto says he will be revenged, but, astonishingly, Gilda pleads for mercy.
Maddalena, the assassin’s sister lures the Duke to a small run down house where he can be heard seducing her. Gilda, taken there by her father, sobs as she hears the Duke’s “infidelity”. Rigoletto swears that the Duke will suffer giving Gilda male clothing, tells her to go to Verona dressed as a man, and he will join her later. Once she goes he pays Sparafucile his money and leaves.
The Duke does not want to go home and goes upstairs to stay the night. Maddalena begs Sparafucile not to kill the Duke and eventually he relents but only if there is another victim to replace the Duke before midnight. Gilda, standing outside hears him, decides to be the victim and enters the house.
Rigoletto arrives to be given a large sack which he weights with stones but as he is pushing it in the river hears the Duke’s voice, grabbing and opening the sack he sees his daughter, dying as she mutters that she is glad to die for the Duke. Rigoletto blames the curse.
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