Rigoletto is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Based on the play “The King Amuses Himself” by Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), the story had to be changed from contemporary times to 16th century Mantua to satisfy royal censors. First performance: Venice in 1851.
Mantua, the 16th century
At his palace, the Duke of Mantua lightheartedly boasts of amorous conquests while escorting his latest prize, Countess Ceprano, to a private chamber. Meanwhile, his hunchback jester, Rigoletto, makes fun of her husband. Marullo announces that Rigoletto is suspected of keeping a mistress, and Ceprano plots with the courtiers to punish the hated buffoon. Attention is diverted when Monterone, an elderly nobleman, enters to denounce the Duke for seducing his daughter. Ridiculed by Rigoletto and placed under arrest, Monterone places a curse on both the Duke and his jester.
On his way home that night, Rigoletto broods over Monterone’s curse. Rejecting the services offered by Sparafucile, a professional assassin, he notes that the word can be as deadly as a dagger.
Greeted at home by his daughter, Gilda, whom he keeps hidden from the world, he reminisces about his late wife and then warns the governess, Giovanna, to admit no one. As Rigoletto leaves, the Duke slips into the garden, tossing a purse to Giovanna to keep her quiet. The nobleman declares his love to Gilda, who has noticed him in church – the only place she’s allowed to go. He tells her he is a poor student named Gualtier Maldè, but at the sound of footsteps, he rushes away.
Tenderly repeating his name, Gilda goes to her bedchamber. Meanwhile, the courtiers stop Rigoletto in the alley by his house. They tell him they are going to abduct Ceprano’s wife, and convince him to help. The jester is duped into wearing a blindfold. Holding a ladder against his own garden wall, the courtiers break into his house and carry off Gilda. Hearing his daughter’s cry for help, Rigoletto tears off his blindfold and rushes into the house, discovering only her scarf. He remembers Monterone’s curse.