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Theatre / Rigoletto

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Poster advertising the premiere performance
Rigoletto (1851) is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi (based on the play Le roi s'amuse or The King Amuses Himself (1832) by Victor Hugo) about the Duke of Mantua, a Handsome Lech if ever there was one, and his hunchbacked jester Rigoletto, a Deadpan Snarker whose quips hit a little too close to home. The opera opens with the Duke plotting the seduction of a young beauty he met in church while gossips whisper that Rigoletto has found a mistress. Count Monterone, whose daughter was seduced by the Duke, comes to complain of her ruined virtue, and the Duke, on Rigoletto's blithe advice, shuts him up by having him executed. Monterone pronounces a curse on them both, and the other courtiers resolve to revenge themselves on Rigoletto for his callous jokes. On his way home from work, Rigoletto also runs into a Professional Killer, Sparafucile, who offers his services in removing anyone Rigoletto might find inconvenient. Now, finally, enter The Ingenue, and The Heart: Gilda, the woman who is simultaneously: the woman believed to be Rigoletto's mistress; the beautiful girl the Duke met at church; and, unbeknownst to everyone, Rigoletto's daughter.

Well, that's all the first act. But being a tragedy, you can guess how the rest plays out.

This opera is widely-regarded as the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi's middle-to-late career. And despite initial problems with Austrian censors who had controlled northern Italian theatres at the time, it was a huge success at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851.

This is the source of "La Donna è Mobile" ("Woman is Fickle") and "Caro Nome" ("Cherished Name"), two of the most famous opera tunes. Beautiful music and tragic love, what else does an opera need?

This work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Job Change: The censors refused to approve an opera portraying a King in such a negative light, so Verdi and his librettist changed the character to a Duke.
  • Adaptational Name Change: While this opera plays most of the story of the original Victor Hugo play straight just about everyone got a name change. The one sort-of exception is Maguelonne becoming Maddalena- both names are local variants of Magdalena.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: This is roughly the Duke's reaction when he discovers that his court have kidnapped his beloved church-going lass.
  • Broken Bird: Arguably, Maddalena.
  • The Casanova: The Duke. We see him seducing Gilda and Maddalena during the opera, and the first act makes it clear that they are just the latest in a long string of conquests.
  • Catchphrase: Rigoletto sure likes to say "The old man has cursed me!"
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Gilda survives her assassination by Sparafucile for just long enough for Rigoletto to discover her inside the sack and hold her as she dies.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Rigoletto thinks he does this... though the situation is much more complicated.
  • Downer Ending: Rigoletto opens the sack Sparafucile has told him contains the Duke's body to find Gilda, who dies in his arms, apparently fulfilling Count Monterone's curse.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Sparafucile rejects Maddalena's suggestion that they kill Rigoletto instead of the Duke, saying that he never cheats his customers.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Zig-zags a lot among the male characters.
    • Sparafucile's role gives him an F2—just one off from the E2, the lowest note you're ever supposed to ask a human being to sing, and he is evil, but relatively sympathetic.
    • The Duke is a tenor and a villain, and was written as such specifically to invert this trope. Meanwhile, Rigoletto himself is a baritone and relatively sympathetic, but hardly a hero by any stretch.
    • Among the women, it is played completely straight, as Maddalena is a contralto and Gilda a soprano.
  • Faint in Shock: Rigoletto himself when he realizes his daughter has been kidnapped; and again in the end, after she dies in his arms. Although, for the latter event, whether he faints or breaks down into Inelegant Blubbering depends on the baritone portraying him.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Sparafucile, to at least a degree. He takes his jobs seriously due to his honor, never double-crosses anyone, and cares for his younger sister Maddalena. Though "Sister" and "brother" may be nineteenth-century euphemisms for "prostitute" and "pimp".
  • Honey Trap: Maddalena has a habit of bedding Sparafucile's intended victims so that he can kill them while they are vulnerable, and follows this pattern with the Duke only to fall In Love with the Mark.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The love-'em-and-leave-'em Duke is the one claiming that "Woman Is Fickle"? (Alternatively, he's just using this as his excuse for his philandering ways, at which point he is still a jerkass but no longer a hypocrite.)
  • Idiot Ball: How do the courtiers kidnap Gilda? By getting Rigoletto to help them. Somehow he doesn't notice the geography and goes along with it.
  • The Ingenue: Gilda.
  • In Love with the Mark: Maddalena. And when she ought to know better, too, since she's done this for Sparafucile's other victims before.
  • Innocent Soprano: Gilda, the titular character's beautiful young daughter who is kept a secret from society. Because of her upbringing, she naively falls for the villainous Duke. The most innocent character, she is also the only soprano; the villainous Maddalena is a contralto while other women are mezzos.
  • Instant Seduction: The Duke. He's good.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • "La donna e mobile" is sung for the third time towards the finale... revealing to Rigoletto that the corpse in the body bag isn't who he thinks it is.
    • "Chi e mai di nuovo, buffon?" - the 'echo' is delivered immediately, though.
  • "I Want" Song: The Duke's opening song, 'Questa o quella' ("This Woman or That"), doubles as both an "I Want" song and an "I Am" Song by identifying the Duke as The Casanova, a man who lives for the intimate company of women (especially other men's wives).
  • Karma Houdini: The Duke. Particularly interesting in that Count Monterone curses both of them, but only Rigoletto is shown to get any real comeuppance (the Duke is last heard happily singing "La Donna è Mobile" in the distance, oblivious both to the (failed) plot on his life and to Gilda's Heroic Sacrifice).
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: A character is fatally stabbed, and sings for several minutes before dying in the middle of a sentence.
  • Kill the Cutie: Gilda was waaaaay too cute and naive for her own sake.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Rigoletto ends up causing the death of his own daughter while trying to avenge her honor.
  • Ladykiller in Love:
    • The Duke tries to imply this about Gilda. He does seem genuinely concerned when he discovers she's been kidnapped. (At first, that is.)
    • The opera cuts their reunion scene - in the original play, Le roi s'amuse, the King of France (the Duke's counterpart) happily proclaims his love for Blanche (Gilda) and promises she'll be his queen... and doesn't understand at all why Blanche is upset that this means being his mistress, not his wife.
  • Love Martyr: Gilda, who takes the Duke's place when the assassin shows up.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Invoked in 'La ra, la ra' - Rigoletto hums a happy tune to hide his anguish.
  • Meaningful Name: Rigoletto (from the French rigoler, "to laugh") is the court jester, Sparafucile (from the Italian, spara, "shoot," and fucile, "rifle") is a hitman.
  • Missing Mom: Gilda's mother died somehow. It isn't particularly explained, though since Gilda doesn't remember her, it may have been Death by Childbirth. Or, if not that, then the mother died when Gilda was a toddler at most, since memories only fully develop when a person is three or four years old.
  • Monster Clown: Rigoletto is neither cheerful nor good-looking. And his story? Pure drama.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Maddalena in many productions. Just see Antonella Colaianni, Nicole Piccolomini, Kirstin Chávez, Margarita Gritskova, Nino Surguladze and Nancy Fabiola Herrera's versions.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Duke expresses casual sexism in his humorously hypocritical song "La donna e mobile."
  • Rape as Drama: It's never outright stated, but the libretto heavily implies that the Duke raped Gilda when he found out his courtiers had brought her to him.
  • Really Gets Around: The Duke seduced Count Monterone's daughter in the backstory, wants to seduce the Countess of Ceprano, seduces/forces himself upon Gilda, and sleeps with Maddalena. Plus he's married, although the Duchess never actually appears and we can assume that it was arranged.
  • Relative Error: The Duke and everyone at court assume that Gilda is Rigoletto's mistress, when she is actually his daughter.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Gilda dies because she invoked this voluntarily, disguising herself as a boy to save the Duke from Sparafucile.
  • Take a Third Option: Sparafucile decides to kill the first man to get in his way so he neither will "break" his deal with Rigoletto, nor tear his sister's heart via killing her lover. Sorry, Gilda.
  • Tenor Boy: Zig-zagged. While tenors are typically male ingenues and play The Hero, The Duke is at best morally gray, at worst the Big Bad. However, his youngness is emphasized, particularly in his seduction of Gilda where he passes himself off as a student.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Gilda, again. Also implied with Count Monterone's (unseen) daughter.
  • Villain Song: "La Donna e Mobile", the Duke's self-justification for forcing himself on every fickle woman he meets.