Giuseppe Verdi

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Opera in three acts
Libretto: Francesco Maria after Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse
World premiere: 11 March 1851, Gran Teatro La Fenice, Venice 
Polish premiere: 8 November 1853, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw 
Premiere of this production: 12 March 1997, Polish National Opera, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw  
In the original Italian with Polish surtitles

The name Rigoletto is borrowed from a parody of Victor Hugo’s play, while the opera is based on an original prose piece (for a change) penned by the author of Les Misérables. The road to operatic stages was long and bumpy: it began in 1844, it ended seven years later. Censorship kept intently weeding out the ‘indecency and vulgarity’ of the libretto, disregarding the logical and dramatic consequences of these interventions. If we compare the starting point with the arrival point, it would turn out that there is barely anything left of the first version – even the names were changed in order to hide the association with Hugo, whom the authorities did not regard with kindness. It had certain, shall we say, rather unobvious results: the title character has no real aria to sing, the prima donna has but one, and the acts break off, say, spontaneously. Verdi’s genius, however, trumped the authorities in the end. The opera immediately won the hearts of the audiences – and nothing has changed since the world premiere in that regard. The Warsaw staging begins with a riot of colours, textures, shapes, flashes, gilding and jewels – I had the impression that I was seeing the tinted Orthodox churches of Kremlin of absolutely incomprehensible beauty and physics, suddenly descended in human form. Well it does not matter, what exactly descended, what matters is that the singing is done in Italian. And it shakes you.



Chorus and Orchestra of the Polish National Opera
Polish National Ballet


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    Act I

    Strolling among the courtiers in his palace ballroom, the Duke ot Mantua lightheartedly boasts of his way with women (‘Questa o quella’). After flirting with his newest quarry, the Countess Ceprano, he escorts her from the room, followed by his hunchbacked jester, Rigoletto, who openly mocks the Countess’ enraged but helpless husband.A courtier named Marullo bursts in with the latest gossip: Rigoletto is suspected of keeping a young mistress in his home. The jester shortly returns with the Duke and, sure of his master’s protection, continues to taunt Ceprano, who plots with others to punish him. When Monterone, an elderly nobleman, forces his way into the room to denounce the Duke for seducing his daughter, he is viciously derided by Rigoletto. As Monterone is arrested, he pronounces a father’s curse on both the Duke and the jester, who falls to the floor in terror.

    Late that night, brooding over Monterone’s curse, Rigoletto hurries to the house where he has hidden his daughter, Gilda. On the way he encounters Sparafucile, a professional assassin, who offers his services; but the jester dismisses him, reflecting that his own tongue is as sharp as the murderer’s dagger (‘Pari siamo!’). His mood brightens when he is greeted by Gilda, who questions him about her long-dead mother; he nostalgically describes his wife as an angel (‘Duet: Deh, non parlare’), adding that Gilda is all he has left. Afraid for the girl’s safety, he warns her nurse, Giovanna, to admit no one to the house. As the jester leaves however, the Duke slips into the garden, tossing a purse to Giovanna to keep her quiet. He declares his love to Gilda (duet ‘E il sol dell’anima’), who has secretly admired him at church, and tells her he is ‘Gualtier Malde’, a poor student. At the sound of footsteps Gilda begs him to leave; alone, she tenderly repeats his name (‘Caro nome’) and then goes up to bed. Meanwhile, the malicious courtiers stop Rigoletto outside his house and ask him to help abduct Ceprano’s wife, who lives nearby. The jester is duped into wearing a blindfold and holding a ladder against the wall of his own house. Laughing at how they have tricked him, the courtiers break into his house and carry off Gilda. Rigoletto, hearing his daughter’s cry for help, tears off his blindfold and rushes into the house: discovering only her scarf, he collapses as he remembers Monterone’s curse.

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    Act II

    In his palace, the Duke is distraught over the kidnapping of Gilda, whom he imagines alone and miserable (‘Parmi veder le lagrime’). When his courtiers return, saying that it is they who have taken her and that she is now in his chamber, he rushes off to the conquest.

    Soon Rigoletto enters, searching for Gilda; though the courtiers are astonished to learn she is not his mistress but his daughter, they bar his way. The jester lashes out at their cruelty (‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’) but ends his tirade with a plea for mercy. Just then Gilda appears, dishevelled in her nightdress; she runs in shame to her father, who orders the others to leave. Alone with Rigoletto, Gilda tells of the Duke’s courtship, then of her abduction (‘Tutte le feste al tempio’). As Monterone is led to the dungeons, still cursing the Duke, the jester swears vengeance. Meanwhile, the lovelorn Gilda begs her father to forgive the Duke (duet ‘Si, vendetta’).

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    Act III

    On a dark night, Rigoletto and Gilda wait outside the abandoned inn on the outskirts of Mantua where Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena live. Gilda watches in disbelief while the Duke, disguised as a soldier and laughing at the fickleness of women (‘La donna è mobile’), makes love to Maddalena. Rigoletto comforts his daughter as Maddalena leads the libertine on (quartet ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’). Telling Gilda to dress as a boy, the jester sends her off to Verona, then pays Sparafucile to murder the Duke and leaves.

    As a storm gathers, Gilda returns to overhear Maddalena urge her brother to spare the handsome stranger and kill Rigoletto instead. Sparafucile refuses but agrees to substitute the next guest who comes to the inn. Gilda, resolved to sacrifice herself for the Duke even though he has betrayed her, knocks at the door and is stabbed. When the storm subsides, Rigoletto returns to claim the body; he gloats over the sack Sparafucile gives him, only to hear his supposed victim singing in the distance. Frantically cutting open the sack, he finds his daughter, who dies asking his forgiveness (duet ‘Lassu in cielo’). Rigoletto cries out: ‘Ah, the curse!’


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