Synopsis of Rigoletto
By Giuseppe Verdi
Act I, Scene 1
In his palace ballroom, the Duke of Mantua tells Borsa of his designs on a beautiful girl he has seen in church. Then, admiring Count Ceprano’s wife, the Duke rejoices in the beauty of women and his libertine hedonism. The Duke’s flirtatious dance with the Countess causes Rigoletto, the court jester, to mock the enraged but helpless Count. The nobles, delighted by the Duke’s daring, are even more amused when Marullo bursts in with the latest gossip: Rigoletto is keeping a young mistress in his home. Sure of his master’s protection, the jester is so free with his humiliating jibes that Ceprano plots with other courtiers to punish him. Monterone forces his way into the party to denounce the Duke for seducing his daughter. Viciously ridiculed by Rigoletto, Monterone hurls a father’s curse at the terrified jester.
ACT I, Scene 2
On the way home that night, Rigoletto broods over Monterone’s curse. A dark figure, Sparafucile, steps from the shadows, offering his services as an assassin. The jester dismisses him, reflecting that his own tongue is as sharp as any murderer’s dagger. He enters the courtyard. Gilda, his daughter, rushes into his arms. When she questions him about her long-dead mother, Rigoletto nostalgically describes his wife as an angel, adding that Gilda is everything to him. But he will not reveal his name or allow her to leave the house except to go to church. Rigoletto warns her nurse, Giovanna, to admit no one. He runs out to the street when he hears someone at the gate. At the same moment, the Duke slips into the courtyard, unseen by Gilda, who confesses to Giovanna that she is in love with a young man who follows them to church. Waving Giovanna away, the Duke tells Gilda that he loves her too, and is “Gualtier Maldè,” a poor student. At the sound of footsteps – Ceprano and Borsa are rallying courtiers outside – Gilda begs him to leave and they exchange excited goodbyes. Repeating his name, Gilda goes up to bed. Meanwhile, the malicious courtiers stop Rigoletto outside and ask him to help abduct Ceprano’s wife, who lives across the street. The jester is duped into wearing a blindfold and holding a ladder against his own garden wall. The courtiers break into his house and carry Gilda off. Rigoletto discovers the deception only when he realizes that the abduction is taking too long and hears Gilda’s cries for help. He tears off the blindfold and rushes into the house. Not finding Gilda, he remembers Monterone’s curse.
In his palace, the Duke is puzzled that he did not find Gilda when he returned to her house. When his courtiers return, saying they took her and she is now in his chamber, he dashes off to his new conquest. Rigoletto enters, pretending indifference as he searches for Gilda. Though the courtiers are astonished to learn she is his daughter, they bar his way. He lashes out at their cruelty, and then begs for mercy. Gilda appears and runs in shame to her father. Alone with Rigoletto, Gilda tells of falling in love at church, of the Duke’s courtship and of her abduction. When Monterone is led through on his way to the dungeons, Rigoletto declares he will avenge them both, though Gilda begs him not to harm the Duke.
On a stormy night, Rigoletto and Gilda wait outside a lonely inn where Sparafucile and his sister and accomplice Maddalena live. When Gilda insists she still loves the Duke, Rigoletto makes her watch as the Duke, disguised as a soldier and laughing at the fickleness of women, makes love to Maddalena. Rigoletto tells Gilda to go off to Verona, disguised as a boy. When she has gone, Rigoletto hires Sparafucile to murder the Duke and leaves. A storm breaks. Gilda returns to overhear Maddalena urge her brother to spare the stranger and kill Rigoletto instead. Sparafucile agrees to substitute the next person who comes to the inn. Gilda, resolved to sacrifice herself for the Duke, knocks at the door and is stabbed. As the storm subsides, Rigoletto returns to claim his prize—only to hear his supposed victim singing in the distance. Frantically opening the sack containing a body, he finds his dying daughter. Rigoletto cries out that Monterone’s curse has been fulfilled.