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The plot of the sad, if slightly silly, story of "Rigoletto". The incomparable opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Updated on February 14, 2016


"Rigoletto". Sublime music. Unreal plot.

The story of the opera "Rigoletto" by Giuseppe Verdi.

Whatever the deficiencies of the plotline, "Rigoletto" contains great music.

An inspired early recording of "Rigoletto" quartet.

Giuseppe Verdi. The composer of "Rigoletto"

"Rigoletto". Sublime music. Unreal plot.

In opera we are often offered the most beautiful music allied with the greatest drivel ever to escape from the twisted minds of the librettist. The stories are so farfetched and the characterisation of the principals so potty, as to make Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower in "Dallas", and rendering the whole of the last season of that immortal soap a dream, seem positively normal behaviour.

Such a plot is to be found in "Rigoletto" that concoction of sublime music, and unbelievable melodrama that makes up one of the most famous operas by that Italian musical genius Giuseppe Verdi.

Still as an invitation to my readers to listen to some of the most sublime music of Italian opera, I am going to attempt to give a synopsis of the plot, and keep a "straight face" at the same time.

The story of the opera "Rigoletto" by Giuseppe Verdi.

Rigoletto is the jester at the court of The Duke of Mantua. He is a widower, and he has one daughter, the beautiful but fatally naïve Gilda. The duke is a notorious seducer of women. Rigoletto mocks some old man who is berating the lecherous aristo for dishonouring his daughter. The distraught father curses him with a father's curse.

On the street one day (, as you do in medieval Italy) he meets an assassin who is seeking work as a rubber out of men, or women if you prefer.

The jester doesn’t need anyone dead, so he passes on the offer.

Back home, Rigoletto warns Gilda to stay indoors and to stay out of the way of the over sexed duke. It didn’t occur to him to encourage his daughter to get out and about. If she had been a bit worldlier, much trouble might have been averted. That's what happens when you have over protective fathers.

Like the good catholic girl she is, Gilda sets out to go to church. On the way she meets the duke, and falls in love. I can’t imagine what they put in the water in Mantua, but it must work pretty well as an aphrodisiac. Of course the duke pretends he is a poor student.

Later he arranges for his men to abduct Gilda, and deposit her in his bedroom. When the distracted Rigoletto comes round the palace looking for his daughter, Gilda comes out to see him in her "scimpies". The heartbroken father can only conclude that "the dirty deed" has been done.

Rigoletto then makes contact again with the medieval version of, i.e the assassin, whose name is Sparafucile, who incidentally has a very nubile sister called Maddalena. Rigoletto pays to have the duke killed, and his body delivered to him in a sack, so he can personally throw it in the river. Maddalena lures the duke to a very remote inn, where Sparafucile is supposed to stab him to death.

If I could make a digression, for a moment, rulers in those days seem to have been very careless of their security. I can’t imagine Barack Obama being lured to a remote inn by a "femme fatale". "The Beast" would probably get stuck somewhere on the way anyway. It would definitely be a case of "no we can’t" rather than "yes we can". Mind you, I think Bill Clinton would have had a fair stab at it.

Back to the story. Rigoletto takes Gilda along to the inn to spy on her erstwhile lover. He hopes to show her what a real love rat the duke is.

The musical highlight of the opera takes place then, when the four principals sing the famous quartet. Gilda is heartbroken, but, like the naïve creature she is, she is still in love.

Rigoletto sends her home to change into men's clothes, in order to flee the country with him. He then sits a little way from the inn to await developments.

Maddelena, meantime, has also fallen for the duke. I don’t know exactly what he was on, but if he could bottle it, he could make a fortune. She tries to persuade her brother to spare him and to kill Rigoletto instead. His "ethics" won’t allow him to kill a client, but he is persuaded to stab to death the next person who enters the inn.

Gilda,(who is eavesdropping again) hears the conversation. Then, in what must put her in the running for the "doormat of the universe" award, she decides to enter the inn to ensure the survival of the duke.

Gilda, or more correctly the stupid woman, marches through the door in her men's clothes. She promptly gets stabbed, thrown in the sack, and then delivered to Rigoletto.

Her father is just about to throw the sack in the river, when he hears the duke singing in the inn.

He opens the bag and discovers that it contains his dying daughter rather than the mangled remains of his enemy.

In a beautiful aria Gilda says goodbye to her father, and tells him that she will soon be with her mother in heaven.

I’m not certain what kind of theologians they had in Mantua, but if they persuaded her that she could fornicate with The Duke, and then basically commit suicide, by walking into a room where she knew she was going to get killed, and still go to Heaven, she should ask for her money back.

But, who am I to judge? "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Rigoletto, remembering the "Fathers Curse", is devastated.

An inspired recording of "Rigoletto" quartet.

If you enjoy "off the wall" comedy, you will LOVE this book


Caruso as The Duke in "Rigoletto".

Whatever the deficencies of the plotline, "Rigoletto" contains great music.

The videos that I am posting with this article give a good impression of the power of the music contained within Rigoletto.

The first one is a favourite of mine, a recording of the quartet featuring that great Irish tenor John McCormack. Made in the early years of the last century, it still conveys the beauty of Verdi's music perfectly.

The second is a recording of "La Donna e Mobile" by Enrico Caruso. This is the aria that Rigoletto hears him singing at the end of the opera. It means "Woman is Fickle". It probably explains a lot about the character of the duke.


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      Mollie Hance 

      9 months ago

      Good job recording techniques have improved. He did have a wonderful voice however.


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