“Powerful and compelling.” NY Concert Review.com
A court jester isn’t quite so funny when he has revenge on his mind. With unforgettable arias that are synonymous with Italian Opera and a dramatic, twisting plot Rigoletto features dark assassins, a philandering Duke and the self-sacrificing Gilda. This lush production set in 16th century Mantua features baritone Michael Corvino as Rigoletto, who “brings a robust voice and disarming vulnerability to the role.” – The New York Times.
Illustration courtesy of Emiliano Ponzi.
Scene 1: A room in the palace
At a ball in his palace the Duke of Mantua sings of a life of pleasure with as many women as possible. He has seen an unknown beauty in church and desires to possess her, but he also wishes to seduce the Countess of Ceprano. Rigoletto, the Duke’s hunchbacked court jester, mocks the husbands of the ladies to whom the Duke is paying attention and advises the Duke to get rid of them by prison or death. Marullo, one of the guests at the ball, informs the noblemen that Rigoletto has a “lover;” the noblemen are incredulous: They resolve to take vengeance on Rigoletto, who then mocks Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke had seduced. The Count is arrested at the Duke’s order and curses both the Duke and Rigoletto. The curse genuinely terrifies Rigoletto.
Scene 2: A street, with the courtyard of Rigoletto’s house
Thinking of the curse, Rigoletto approaches his house and is accosted by the assassin Sparafucile, who walks up to him and offers his services. Rigoletto considers the proposition but eventually declines. Sparafucile wanders off, after repeating his own name a few times. Rigoletto contemplates the similarities between the two of them: Sparafucile kills men with his sword, and Rigoletto uses “a tongue of malice” to stab his victims. Rigoletto opens a door in the wall and returns home to his daughter Gilda. They greet each other warmly. Rigoletto has been concealing his daughter from the Duke and the rest of the city, and she does not know her father’s occupation. Since he has forbidden her to appear in public, she has never been anywhere outside her home, with the exception of church. Indeed, she does not even know her own father’s name.
Rigoletto leaves home and the Duke appears. He overhears Gilda confessing her guilt to her nurse, Giovanna: She failed to tell her father about a young man she had met while at church. She says she has fallen in love with the man, but notes she would love him even more if he were a poor student. As she declares her love, the Duke enters, overjoyed. Alarmed by the sudden appearance of a stranger, Gilda calls for Giovanna, unaware that the Duke has sent her away. The Duke then convinces Gilda of his love while masquerading as a student. When she asks for his name, he hesitantly calls himself Gualtier Maldè. Hearing sounds and fearing that her father has returned, Gilda sends the Duke away after the couple exchange rushed vows of love. Alone, Gilda meditates on her love for the Duke, whom she believes is a student.
Sometime later, Rigoletto returns preoccupied. Outside the walled garden of Rigoletto’s home, the hostile noblemen prepare to abduct Gilda, believing her to be the jester’s mistress. The men convince Rigoletto that they are trying to abduct the Countess Ceprano. They blindfold him and use him to help with the abduction. With her father’s unwitting assistance, Gilda is carried away by the noblemen. Upon realizing that Gilda was, in fact, the woman abducted, Rigoletto collapses, remembering the curse.
The Duke’s Palace
The Duke becomes concerned at the disappearance of Gilda. The noblemen then enter and inform him that they have captured Rigoletto’s mistress. By their description, he recognizes the woman they abducted is, in fact, Gilda, and he rushes off to the room where she is being held. Pleased by the Duke’s strange excitement, the courtiers now make sport with Rigoletto, who enters singing. He attempts to find Gilda by pretending to be ambivalent, as he fears she may fall into the hands of the Duke. Eventually, he admits that he is actually seeking his daughter and asks the courtiers to return Gilda to him. Rigoletto attempts to run into the room in which Gilda is being held, but the nobleman beat him. Gilda rushes in and begs her father to send the people away. The men leave the room, believing Rigoletto has gone mad. Gilda tells her father what has happened to her while in the palace. In a duet with his daughter, Rigoletto demands vengeance against the Duke while Gilda pleads on her lover’s behalf.
A street outside Sparafucile’s house
A portion of Sparafucile’s house is seen, with two rooms open to the view of the audience. Rigoletto and Gilda, who still loves the Duke, arrive outside. The Duke’s voice can be heard singing about the fickleness of women, describing their nature to be that of infidelity and indecision. Rigoletto makes Gilda realize that it is the Duke who is in the assassin’s house attempting to seduce Sparafucile’s sister, Maddalena.
Rigoletto bargains with the assassin, who is ready to murder his guest for money, and offers him 20 scudi to kill the Duke. He orders his daughter to put on a man’s clothes to prepare to leave for Verona, stating that he plans to follow later. With falling darkness, a thunderstorm approaches and the Duke determines to remain in the house. Sparafucile assigns to him the ground floor sleeping quarters.
Gilda, who still loves the Duke despite knowing him to be unfaithful, returns dressed as a man. She overhears Maddalena begging for the Duke’s life and Sparafucile promising her that if by midnight another can be found to take the place of the Duke, he will spare the Duke’s life. Gilda resolves to sacrifice herself for the Duke and enters the house. She is immediately mortally wounded and collapses.
At midnight, when Rigoletto arrives with money, he receives a corpse wrapped in a sack, and rejoices in his triumph. Weighting it with stones, he is moments from casting the sack into the river when he hears the voice of the Duke singing once again about the fickleness of women. Bewildered, Rigoletto opens the sack and, to his great despair, discovers his mortally wounded daughter. For a brief moment, Gilda revives and declares she is glad to die for her beloved. Rigoletto holds his daughter in his arms as she dies. The story draws to its tragic close as Rigoletto, his wildest fear materialized, lets out an anguished cry of “La maledizione!” (“The curse!”).
|Stage Director||Fenlon Lamb|
|Duke of Mantua||Jason Slayden|
|Count Monterone||Joseph Barron|
|Mateo Borsa||Andrew Penning|
|Count Ceprano||Calvin Griffin|
Born in 1813 in the Italian village of Le Roncole near Busseto, Giuseppe Verdi spent his early years studying the organ. By the age of seven, he had become an organist at San Michele Arcangelo. It was there that the young Verdi was an altar boy and, according to myth, his mother saved him from the French in 1814. In 1823, Verdi moved to Busseto and attended the music school run by Antonio Provesi. By the age of 13, he was an assistant conductor of the Busseto orchestra. After finishing the school, Verdi applied for admission to the Milan Conservatory. He was rejected for admission, although one of the examiners suggested that he “forget about the Conservatory and choose a maestro in the city.” Verdi studied composition in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer and the maestro at La Scala. Verdi bounced back and forth between Milan and Busseto until he was named maestro of the Busseto Philharmonic in March 1836.
By May 1836, he had married childhood sweetheart, Margherita Barezzi, his greatest benefactor’s daughter. He returned to Milan several years later, this time with a young family.
Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, was brought to the stage at La Scala in November 1839 and ran for multiple performances. The noted Ricordi firm published Oberto and, based upon his initial operatic effort, Verdi won a contract for three additional operas. He began work on his next opera, Un Giorno di Regno, but was interrupted when, one by one, the Verdis fell ill. A little over the course of a year, Verdi lost his son, his daughter, and his beloved wife to illness. Unfortunately, Un Giorno was a complete failure.
Verdi vowed never to compose another comedy and developed a fatalistic belief in inescapable destiny. Even so, the director at La Scala kept faith with Verdi, who later declared that with his next work, Nabucco, “my musical career really began.” At dress rehearsals for Nabucco in the La Scala theater, carpenters making repairs to the house gradually stopped hammering and, seating themselves on scaffolding and ladders, listened with rapt attention to what the composer considered a lackluster chorus rendering of “Va, pensiero.” At the close of the number, the workers pounded the woodwork with cries of “Bravo, bravo, viva il maestro!” The opening of Nabucco was a triumph. Verdi was famous, commanding a higher fee than any other composer of his time.
I Lombardi followed Nabucco and won an unprecedented victory over Austrian censors. Verdi’s triumph in retaining the libretto and melodic themes the censors had hoped to ban as “religious” in nature forged the composer’s lifelong reputation as an ideological hero of the Italian people. This would be the first of his many battles with censors for artistic freedom.
Over the next seven years, the composer penned ten additional operas of varied success, gradually making the transition between two distinct eras of Verdi composition. Initially captive of the “bel canto” style and heir to Donizetti’s artistic throne, Verdi continually experimented to produce his own operatic genre in which melodic drama and identifiable musical essence of character took center stage as an equal to vocal purity and elegance.
It was an inspired stroke of boldness about which Verdi commented in explaining the innovative core of his work, Il Trovatore, “I think (if I’m not mistaken) that I have done well; but at any rate I have done it in the way that I felt it.” In saying so, he defined his own creative hallmark. Although a musical genius, Verdi composed spontaneously from the heart. A brilliantly schooled musician, he placed emotional sensibility above intellect in all that he wrote. In the process, he created the remarkable marriage of dramatic characterization and vocal power, an indelible artistic signature.
The creation of an operatic tour de force based upon his ingenious artistic formulation assured Verdi’s immortality, beginning in 1851 with Rigoletto, followed soon after by Il Trovatore, La traviata, and ultimately in 1871, by Aïda. Even without the masterpieces that followed – Simon Boccanegra, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Forza del Destino, and Don Carlos or his great Requiem Mass – the Maestro could have afforded to rest on his musical achievements and stand unchallenged as the premier operatic composer of any age. In fact, with the success of Aïda, Verdi seemed to have abandoned composing altogether, producing no new works for fifteen years.
Fortunately for posterity, an electrifying libretto, Otello, created by poet Arrigo Boito, brought the composer out of his self-imposed retirement. The opening of Otello in February of 1887 attracted an international audience to Milan for a dramatic event which ended only after the citizenry had showered Verdi with gifts and applause throughout twenty curtain calls and towed his carriage to the hotel. Public festivities continued until dawn.
In 1893, with the premiere of Falstaff, Verdi and his adoring audience repeated the entire sequence of events at La Scala – all in honor of a comedy he had vowed as a young man never to write. The maestro finally retreated to his country home in Sant’ Agata with his second wife, singer Giuseppina Strepponi. They spent several peaceful years in retirement until her death in 1897. His wife’s death left Verdi in a state of unbearable grief. He immediately fled Sant’ Agata for the Grand Hotel in Milan and, after four unhappy years, Verdi died in 1901, the victim of a massive stroke. Verdi’s death left all Italy in mourning. He still is revered throughout the music world as the greatest of operatic composers and, more particularly, in Italy as a patriotic hero and champion of human rights.