An opera based on Victor Hugo’s Le Roi S’Amuse, Verdi’s Rigoletto was first performed in Venice in March of 1851. What many believe to be the first great masterpiece of Verdi’s career, the opera continues to draw crowds of hundreds to performances today. The opera opens with the Duke of Mantua longing for a woman, the Countess of Ceprano. Rigoletto, the Duke’s court jester, taunts the Duke and other noblemen, announcing that even he has a lover while the others do not. The Duke seduces the Countess, but her father, Count Monterone, arrests both the Duke and Rigoletto and puts a curse on them. As Rigoletto returns home, the audience discovers that he has a beautiful daughter, Gilda, who he has been shielding from the Duke and the world. Gilda does not know her father’s occupation, or his real name. Gilda confides in her nurse that she is in love with a man she had met at church. The Duke overhears this and realizes Gilda is referring to him. After sending her nurse away, the Duke approaches Gilda and they express their love for each other. However, Gilda believes that the Duke is a student. On his way home, Rigoletto happens upon the group of noblemen from earlier. They have kidnapped Gilda, mistaking her for Rigoletto’s lover. Convincing the jester that they are actually kidnapping the Countess Ceprano, Rigoletto helps with the abduction of his daughter. The Duke, realizing that Gilda has been kidnapped, rushes away to rescue her. Meanwhile, Rigoletto confesses to the noblemen that Gilda is in fact his daughter. The noblemen beat Rigoletto until he can hardly move. Finally, Rigoletto finds Gilda, only to be shocked to hear that she is in love with the Duke and no longer pure. Rigoletto seeks vengeance on the Duke, and the noblemen believe he has gone mad. The jester hires an assassin, Sparafucile, to kill the Duke. While spying in Sparafucile’s home, Rigoletto shows Gilda that the Duke is attempting to seduce a woman inside. He orders Gilda to put on men’s clothing and meet him in Verona in a few days. Despite the Duke being unfaithful, Gilda still loves him. She enters the house and sacrifices herself to spare the Duke’s life. Rigoletto returns to the assassin’s home later that night and receives a corpse in a sack. Just as he is about to toss the body into the river, he hears the Duke singing. Baffled, he opens the sack to find his daughter. Just before the opera ends, Rigoletto cries out in horror, “the curse!”
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