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Verdi 200: Rigoletto

3 hours, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 16 February 2013

Radio 3's Verdi 200 celebrations continue with a live performance from the Met of one of Verdi's most popular works, Rigoletto.

Verdi and his librettist Piave based the work on a drama by Victor Hugo which had been banned after just one performance. The problem was that it showed a king as immoral and as a womaniser.

In Piave's libretto the king was changed to a duke who ruled over Mantua. This placated the censors and eventually the premiere went ahead at La Fenice in Venice. It was a great success with the Duke's aria La donna e mobile an immediate hit. It also contains one of the most heartfelt father daughter relationships in all of Verdi's work, between the court jester Rigoletto and Gilda.

This new production by Michael Mayer sets the action in Las Vegas in 1960 and stars the Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic in the title role with German soprano Diana Damrau as Gilda and the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as the Duke.

Rigoletto..... Zeljko Lucic (baritone)
Gilda..... Diana Damrau (soprano)
Duke of Mantua..... Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Sparafucile..... Stefan Kocan (bass)
Maddalena..... Oksana Volkova (mezzo-soprano)
Giovanna...... Edyta Kulczak (mezzo-soprano)
Count Ceprano.....David Crawford (bass)
Countess Ceprano.....Emalie Savoy (mezzo-soprano)
Matteo Borsa.....Alexander Lewis (tenor)
Count Monterone.....Robert Pomakov (baritone)
Marullo.....Jeff Mattsey (baritone)
A Court Usher.....Earle Patriarco (bass)
A Page.....Catherine Choi (mezzo-soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York
Michele Mariotti, conductor.


    At his casino, the Duke boasts of his way with women. He dances with the Countess Ceprano, while Rigoletto, the Duke’s hunchbacked sidekick and sometime comedian, mocks the countess’s enraged but helpless husband, Count Ceprano. Marullo, one of the Duke’s entourage, bursts in with the latest gossip: Rigoletto is suspected of keeping a young mistress at his place. Rigoletto, unaware of the news, continues to taunt Ceprano, who plots with the others to punish him. Monterone, an Arab tycoon, forces his way into the crowd to denounce the Duke for seducing his daughter and is viciously ridiculed by Rigoletto. Monterone is arrested and curses Rigoletto.

    Rigoletto is disturbed by Monterone’s curse. He encounters Sparafucile, a hitman, who offers his services. Rigoletto reflects that his own tongue is as sharp as the murderer’s knife. Arriving at home he warmly greets his daughter, Gilda. Afraid for the girl’s safety, he warns the housekeeper, Giovanna, not to let anyone into the apartment. When Rigoletto leaves, the Duke appears and bribes Giovanna, who lets him in. He declares his love for Gilda, who has secretly admired him at church, and tells her he is a poor student. After he has left, Gilda tenderly thinks of her newfound love before going to bed. The Duke’s entourage gathers, intending to abduct Rigoletto’s “mistress.” Rigoletto appears and they quickly change their story, telling him they are abducting the Countess Ceprano, and enlist his aid in their scheme. But they have deceived him and it is Gilda they carry off, with Rigoletto’s unwitting assistance. He rushes in to discover that his daughter is gone and collapses as he remembers Monterone’s curse.


    At the casino, the Duke is distraught about the abduction of Gilda. When his entourage returns and tells him the story of how they took the girl from Rigoletto’s apartment and left her in the Duke’s rooms, he hurries off to her. Rigoletto enters, looking for Gilda. The entourage is astonished to find out that she is his daughter rather than his mistress, but they prevent him from storming into the Duke’s apartment. Rigoletto violently denounces them for their cruelty, then asks for compassion. Gilda appears and runs in shame to her father, who orders the others to leave. Alone with Rigoletto, Gilda tells him of the Duke’s courtship, of her abduction, and her seduction by the Duke. Monterone is brought in as he is being taken away by the Duke’s men, and Rigoletto swears that both he and the old man will be avenged. Gilda begs her father to forgive the Duke.


    Rigoletto and Gilda arrive at a seedy club on the outskirts of town where Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena live. Inside, the Duke laughs at the fickleness of women. Gilda and Rigoletto watch through the window as the Duke amuses himself with Maddalena. Rigoletto tells Gilda to leave town disguised as a man and pays Sparafucile to murder the Duke. Gilda returns to overhear Maddalena urge her brother to spare the handsome stranger and kill the hunchback instead. Sparafucile refuses to murder Rigoletto but agrees to kill the next person who arrives at the club, so that he will be able to produce a dead body. Gilda decides to sacrifice herself for the Duke. She knocks, enters the club, and is stabbed. Rigoletto returns and Sparafucile presents him with the body, which is wrapped in a trenchcoat with its face covered. Assuming it is the Duke’s, Rigoletto gloats over the body, when he hears his supposed victim singing in the distance. Frantically pulling the covering aside, he finds his daughter, who dies asking his forgiveness. Horrified, Rigoletto remembers Monterone’s curse.



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