Rigoletto - Synopsis
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse
Rigoletto is the jester at the court of the Duke of Mantua. His speciality is making jokes at the cost of those who have been hurt by the the Duke. The Duke has a reputation as an insatiable lady-killer who seduces the daughters and wives of his subjects.
Rigoletto keeps his service at court completely separate from his private life. Nobody knows that he has an adult daughter whom he keeps hidden from society in the care of Giovanna. Gilda, for her part, knows nothing about what her father does outside their own four walls. Rigoletto’s only concern is that he should not lose Gilda, the apple of his eye.
The Duke is celebrating, a festivity devoted solely to his pleasure. He goes into raptures about an unknown girl whom he has been chasing for the last three months and whom he finally plans to conquer. For the time being, however, it is the Countess Ceprano to whom he is attracted. He pays court to her in front of her husband. The jealous Count Ceprano immediately becomes the object of Rigoletto’s scorn. Someone comes in with an amusing piece of news: it is rumoured that Rigoletto has a young mistress whom he keeps hidden. When Rigoletto provocatively advises the Duke to have Count Ceprano executed so that he can amuse himself with his wife without being disturbed, he does not only cause laughter. Count Ceprano finds plenty of support for his plan to have his revenge on the shameless jester.
The festivities are interrupted by an uninvited guest: Count Monterone accuses the Duke of raping his daughter. Rigoletto pitylessly makes him the victim of his jokes, upon which the injured father curses the Duke and Rigoletto.
On his way to his daughter Rigoletto is haunted by the curse, he cannot get it out of his mind. Sparafucile, a professional assassin, emerges out of the darkness and offers him his services. Rigoletto feels an affinity with this new acquaintance. It becomes clear to him just how much he hates his job and the Duke’s court.
Gilda tries to find out what is worrying her father, but Rigoletto evades her questions about his name and her origins. When she wants to talk to him about her mother,
Rigoletto bursts into tears. Gilda has to comfort her father in his misery. Before he leaves again he impresses upon her that she must not leave the house except to go to church.
Gilda is left with a bad conscience: she has not told her father that a young man regularly follows her to church. Giovanna puts her mind at rest. When Gilda admits that she is attracted to the unknown stranger, Giovanna promptly allows him into the house. The Duke bombards Gilda with passionate declarations of love. When she asks him who he is, he tells her he is a poor student. The happiness of the young couple is disturbed by voices in the street: the mob has gathered around Ceprano to kidnap Rigoletto’s supposed mistress. Gilda is afraid that her father will return. She urges the Duke to flee. Gilda is left with a fictitious name which awakens all her longings.
Rigoletto returns unexpectedly. The men in front of his house profess that they want to abduct Countess Ceprano and invite him to join them in their plan. Rigoletto agrees and accepts the strange conditions: which means that, with his eyes bound, he assists in the kidnapping of his own daughter. When he finds himself alone in the empty house he realizes that Monterone’s curse has been fulfilled in the most catastrophic way.
The Duke is disconsolate when he learns that Gilda has been kidnapped. He feels that through her he has become capable of true love. The kidnappers proudly tell him about the trick they have played on Rigoletto. The Duke realizes that they have actually brought the girl within his reach. He rushes to Gilda to prove his love for her.
Rigoletto tries to find out something from the palace about what has happened to his daughter. Only with great difficulry can he hide his panic from the kidnappers. When he suspects that Gilda is with the Duke he almost breaks down the door to the latter’s chamber.
Gilda faces her father, full of shame. She wants to tell him face to face what has happened. As far as Rigoletto is concerned it does not need many words to make it obvious that his daughter’s honour has been lost. He swears he will take bitter revenge on the Duke. He does not listen to Gilda’s begging him to forgive the Duke.
Gilda cannot forget the Duke. In order to convince her of the Duke’s unfaithfulness, Rigoletto arranges for his daughter to secretly witness the Duke making advances to another woman. In an inn of dubious repute the Duke seeks his pleasure with Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister. Gilda is forced to listen to the Duke whispering the same sweet words to Maddalena he had once used only for her ears.
Rigoletto sends Gilda away. She is to leave the town disguised as a man. He commissions Sparafucile to murder Maddalena’s client and pays him a deposit. He wants to have the corpse in his hands by midnight. A storm is brewing and Sparafucile offers his victim a room for the night.
Contrary to her father’s wishes, Gilda returns. She eavesdrops on Sparafucile and Maddalena and thus learns that her beloved is to be murdered. Maddalena tries to talk her brother out of the murder. Sparafucile does not want to lose the money. He is prepared to make a deceitful compromise: if a stranger turns up before midnight he will kill him instead of the Duke. Gilda decides to sacrifice herself for the Duke.
The murderer hands over the murdered man to Rigoletto on his return and receives his money. Rigoletto is rejoicing about the corpse when he hears the Duke in the distance singing his sarcastic little song about women’s disloyalty. Horrified, Rigoletto takes a closer look at the body and recognises his daughter. Gilda opens her eyes once again: she begs him to forgive the Duke and promises to pray for her father in heaven, at her mother’s side. Rigoletto begs his daughter not to leave him alone. In his despair he blames Monterone’s curse for Gilda’s death.