Spotlight on: RIGOLETTO


At Seattle Opera August 2019

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave

The Story

Long Story Short

The jokes not funny when they’re laughing at you.

Who’s Who?

Rigoletto, the Duke’s court jester and Gilda’s overprotective father.

The Duke of Mantua is a young nobleman who spends his days seducing women.

Gilda is Rigoletto’s sheltered daughter.

Sparafucile a hired assassin, runs a seedy hotel and tavern on the outskirts of town.

Maddalena is Sparafucile’s sister. She dances in the streets to lure men to the tavern, where her brother kills them and dumps their bodies in the river.

Monterone is an old man whose daughter was seduced by the Duke before the opera begins.

Watch the Trailer

Rigoletto 101 Podcast

Where’d They Get This Story?

From Victor Hugo, novelist (Les Misérables & The Hunchback of Notre Dame), poet, and playwright who spearheaded the Romantic movement in French literature. Hugo’s 1832 play Le roi s `amuse (The King Amuses Himself) was banned after one performance, due to its fierce criticism of monarchy. Verdi liked to criticize corrupt governments, but that wasn’t what fascinated him about this story. He was more interested in Hugo’s protagonist, the jester, whom Verdi considered “a figure worthy of Shakespeare.” Rigoletto, who simultaneously pushes the Duke to vice and his daughter to virtue, is ultimately destroyed by their tragic encounter. Verdi found the plot a powerful indictment of a society which values women for their chastity but encourages men to be promiscuous.

Where, When, & Why Was this Opera Written?

Rigoletto premiered in 1851 in Venice, then still controlled by Hapsburg Austria (Venetian rebels had attempted an unsuccessful revolution two years earlier). The Austrian censors did everything in their power to dissuade Verdi from setting Hugo’s scandalous play to music; they objected to the characters (“A singing hunchback? That’s ridiculous!”), the plot (especially the attempted assassination of a ruler), even the prop list (originally the tenor was to flourish a key as he sang his cabaletta, a crudely phallic gesture which did indeed get cut). But by this point in his career, Verdi was Italy’s most successful and popular opera composer, and he knew he could do something really special and interesting with Rigoletto. In negotiations with the Austrian police, he agreed that instead of calling their playboy-ruler character King François I of France (as Hugo did), they’d make him a nameless Duke of Mantua. The opera proved to be Verdi’s most powerful and groundbreaking work to date, and ever since has been one of the world’s favorite operas.

Why update Rigoletto?

Thoughts from Director Lindy Hume

“The problem with NOT updating Rigoletto is that a Renaissance-era codpiece-cloak-and-hose setting in a fictional court of Mantua lets the licentious Duke off the hook for his appalling treatment of women. ...In the course of two hours we watch him hitting on a married countess, a teenage virgin, and a prostitute. Only in Act 2 do we discover, by accident, that the Duke is actually married. What a guy!

“This production of Rigoletto was created for New Zealand Opera in 2012. As you will see, I found inspiration for the spirit of the bad boy Duke of Mantua in Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, who at that time was breezing through his bunga bunga sex trial with his signature blend of political incorrectness, immaculate tailoring and dazzling (if cosmetically enhanced) smile. Where better to set the debauched action of Rigoletto than the colorful, charismatic, spectacularly excessive Berlusconi court?

“Rigoletto’s story remains relevant. It illustrates how money, power, and privilege continue to shape our lives. So as a feminist and a fan of Verdi’s wonderful observation of human behavior, how could I resist bringing an imagined scenario where the excesses of obscene wealth, the corruption of high political power, the moral hollowness of the court, and the vulnerability of the poor all vibrate with an undercurrent of fear, violence and criminality? This is the world of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and our own.”

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