• William J A Parker

Verdi's Rigoletto with Scottish Opera

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

An arrogant, misogynistic Duke who thinks he can charm any lady he likes, a court jester hiding away his beautiful daughter, a group of angry guests and an assassin for hire lingering in the shadows.

What could go wrong?

Sit down, strap in and get your matriarchy on because this is Giuseppe Verdi's RIGOLETTO.

Scottish Opera's Rigoletto 2018. Credit Julie Howden

Guiseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) is perhaps the most famous Italian opera composer to have ever lived and wrote many of the most recognisable operatic tunes out there - along with Giacomo Puccini of course!. As with many Italian operas his works are often ridden with passion and feeling but are also quite uniquely political, with many of the themes of his operas lending to much more interesting discussion than your average tragic romance or witty comedy. His operas are widely performed all over the world, with the most popular being the series known as his 'three peaks' - Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata. As a result of such frequent and popular performances, many Verdi operas have been adapted in all sorts of interesting and intriguing ways, including a version of our opera for today, Rigoletto, set in the glamorous world of the American mafia (as opposed to a medieval court) by popular opera director Jonathan Miller!

Rigoletto was first commissioned in 1850 by the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and was completed in 1851, becoming the first of the operatic landmarks of Verdi's later period. However, Rigoletto's inception was not so easy so after struggling for some time with the conversional nature of his chosen play, 'La roi s'amuse', whereby many things had to be changed and modified in order for the themes of the opera to be accepted by the establishment, a final version of the story was agreed.

Lina Johnson as Gilda and Adam Smith as the Duke of Mantua. Scottish Opera 2018. Credit Julie Howden

The opera opens at an occasion at a palace with the Duke of Mantua (an Italian city) essentially bragging about his way with the ladies - his life of pleasure with an endless amount of women. He's so content with himself in fact that he sings a song about it, 'Questa o quello', which in this context would mean something like 'this woman or that woman or any woman' or something similarly nauseating. The Duke's jester, Rigoletto, in true jester spirit, takes it upon himself to tease the unhappy husbands of the ladies the Duke has taken a fancy to, including the Count Ceprano, whose wife the Duke has decided to attempt to seduce (is it really that easy?). Things escalate rather quickly and Rigoletto advises the Duke to imprison the count (or even to have him killed!). One of the guests at the ball then informs the crowd that Rigoletto in fact has a lover himself, and they all decide to avenge their self-pride in some way or other. Count Monterone, whose daughter has previously been seduced by the Duke, now makes an appearance and after a little antagonisation on Rigoletto's part, Monterone attempts to confront the Duke (though is promptly dragged off to prison by the Duke's guards instead...). As he is escorted away, he curses both Rigoletto and the Duke (wouldn't you?).

Aris Argiris as Rigoletto. Scottish Opera 2018. Credit Julie Howden

Anyway, so it turns out that quite understandably Rigoletto has taken it upon himself to hide away his daughter Gilda from the rest of the world (particularly the Duke, for obvious reasons...). On his way to see her at the house in which she is concealed, an assassin Sparafucile offers Rigoletto his services (as you do). Rigoletto politely declines however he remembers Sparafucile's kind offer for later on, even improvising a little song about how alike they are (though Rigoletto's weapon is obviously his sharp tongue as opposed to a sharp anything else). Speaking with his daughter, we learn of the extent of Rigoletto's attempted concealment of her (she doesn't even know her father is a jester for example... I mean... it'd be pretty hard to hide that big colourful jester costume though wouldn't it... 'Why are you dressed like that father?' ...  'erm...fashion?').

After Rigoletto has left, the Duke, who is lingering around in the shadows in a manner which may appear rather strange, overhears Gilda telling her maid about a nice boy she has met at the church (which conveniently, you guessed it, was the Duke himself). She suggests that maybe she'd love him a bit more if he was a poor student and at this point, for a reason that does not need explaining, the Duke bursts in alleging to be just that and spouting something about how love is 'the sunshine of the soul' (È il sol dell'anima).

When he is asked for his name he obviously has to make up a fake one on the spot, but it's okay, he has plenty of believable Italian names to choose from... Lorenzo, Andrea, Giuseppe, Francesco perhaps...? No, he goes with Gualtier Maldè... (Okay...). Rigoletto returns as the hostile and vengeful guests from the party gather outside the house, believing Gilda to actually be Rigoletto's lover of course (only slightly gross), and prepare to abduct her (again, things always seem to escalate rather brisky in the world of opera don't they...). The group now trick Rigoletto into believing that they're actually abducting Countess Ceprano and place him in a mask like the rest of them, though obviously the mask is more like a blind fold, and they carry Gilda away. Rigoletto, as the logical and rational jester he is, believes that this is obviously down to the curse from earlier.

The Chorus of Rigoletto. Scottish Opera 2018. Credit Julie Howden

Now we're into Act 2 and the Duke is very upset that Gilda has seemingly vanished and he wastes no time in letting everyone know all about it. 'She was stolen from me! I appear to see tears" (a big softy all of a sudden). The kidnapping group of courtiers enter and let the Duke know that they have captured Rigoletto's 'mistress'. When she is described to the Duke, he realises that this is actually Gilda and rushes off to see her.

Rigoletto arrives and is mocked by the courtiers, who believe they have kidnapped his mistress and that now she is currently being seduced by Mr Duke himself. Rigoletto initially plays it cool but is soon begging them to return her to him. When the two are then later reunited, Gilda informs her father about what has happened to her. The arrested Monterone now passes by and is saddened thinking that his curse has in fact not come true, though Rigoletto promptly informs Monterone that actually it may have, "Yes! Revenge, Terrible Revenge!".

In the final act, the Duke has been lured to Sparafucile's house by the assassin's sister, and sings his famous aria 'La Donna È Mobile' ('the woman is fickle'...). Rigoletto and Gilda, who are outside the house, hear his singing and Gilda is saddened by the Duke's unfaithfulness. Rigoletto assures his daughter that they will have their revenge however, and quickly pays Sparafucile to murder his guest (the Duke) as Gilda dons male clothing so that they may later leave for Veronas. In fact, a storm now begins and the Duke is forced to stay the night. Sparafucile decides that he will kill his guest later as he sleeps. Sensible.

Adam Smith, Sioned Gwen Davies, Lina Johnson and Aris Argiris in Rigoletto. Scottish Opera 2018. Credit Julie Howden

Smitten with the Duke, Gilda returns to the house to find Maddalena (Sparafucile's sister), who is also smitten, begging Sparafucile to spare the Duke's life. Sparafucile agrees as long as they can find an alternative victim to present to Rigoletto (as the dead Duke) before midnight. Gilda (don't ask me why) now decides to sacrifice herself for the Duke and is stabbed and collapses, mortally wounded by Sparafucile. Rigoletto arrives at midnight with payment and takes the corpse (which is wrapped in a sack) away with him ready to throw into the river. Just before he is about to do so however he hears the Duke singing in the distance, and on inspection of the sack, devastatingly discovers his dying daughter inside. Following her final words "Father I have deceived you" she dies in Rigoletto arms. The last thing we hear in the theatre is the desperate cries of a regretful and heartbroken father as he cradles the lifeless body of his beautiful daughter.

So what of the songs? Here are some of my favourites.

Firstly, Gualtier Maldè... Caro nome ('Gualtier Maldè... Dearest name'). This is the aria sung by Gilda as she meditates on her new found love for the Duke, who she of course at this stage believes is actually a poor student named 'Gualtier Maldè'. There is a moving yet playful and exciting character to the music, which perhaps captures that sense of falling in love with the first time.

"Sweet name, you who made my heart throb for the first time!"

"My last breath will be yours, my beloved".

Watch a rather good contemporary staging of this aria above.

Secondly, La Donna È Mobile ('The woman is fickle') must be mentioned. If you haven't recognised any of the music up until now, now you most certainly will. The duke sings of how women are unstable and unpredictable. All aboard the patriarchy train folks....

Andrea Bocelli's magnificent charm might just save this aria from falling into complete distaste however, let's find out: 

Finally, I have chosen Bella figlia dell'amore ('Beautiful daughter of love'). This aria is nothing short of a masterpiece. A beautiful quartet between the Duke, Maddalena, Rigoletto and Gilda. The Duke seduces Maddalena inside her and Sparafucile's home whilst Rigoletto and Gilda listen from outside. As the Duke woos his latest admirer, Rigoletto promises his beautiful daughter that they will soon have their revenge. It really is a thing of beauty as these two narratives run alongside each other simultaneously.

"I am a slave to your charms; with a single word you could relieve my every pain".

"Hush, weeping can do no good... You are now convinced he was lying. Hush, and leave it up to me to hasten our revenge.  It will be quick, it will be deadly, I know how to deal with him!".

Here's is a filmed for the screen version of this beautiful quartet with soloists Domingo, Grigolo, Novikova and Surguladze:

So let's talk take-aways.

1. Try not to mock people who when mocked have a tendency to kidnap your family.  Some people just can't take a bit of casual jester banter, throw them a toad and they'll throw you a snake (I have no idea how I thought of that analogy but we're rolling with it). Know your boundaries but most importantly, know everybody else's -especially if you have a beautiful daughter whom everyone else for some bizarre reason thinks is your beautiful girlfriend.

2. Don't hide away your children - let them live their lives and make their own mistakes. When people are introduced to things such as love, alcohol, fun etc. too late on in their lives, they tend to go a little bit crazy for it - trust me, any of us university students will tell you all about that! In fact they'll probably fall in love with the nearest 'financially challenged student' named Gualtier Maldè more than likely. Parenting is about guiding your children through life and setting an example, not restricting them.

3. Don't die for misogynistic a**holes. The most important point comes last I suppose. If you love someone, they cheat on you with someone else and then are due to die for whatever reason, don't sacrifice yourself. There might be more practical ways of saving their life... maybe.

You can catch a performance of 'Rigoletto' with Scottish Opera on the following dates and locations: 

Theatre Royal, Glasgow Thu 18 Oct - Sat 27 Oct His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen Thu 1 Nov - Sat 3 Nov Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Fri 9 Nov - Sat 17 Nov Eden Court, Inverness Thu 20 Nov - Sat 24 Nov

For more details see: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/rigoletto/

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