Rigoletto – Synopsis
The action takes place in the city of Mantua and its surroundings. The period is the 16th century.
Act I, Scene 1
A hall in the ducal palace
At a festive ball the Duke of Mantua is telling Borsa about his latest flirtation, a young woman he sees each Sunday at church. She lives in a remote street and an unknown man enters her house each night. As they admire the ladies of the court, the Duke expresses his admiration for all women and his disdain for monogamy and those who practice it. As Count Ceprano watches the Duke pursue his wife, the hunchback jester Rigoletto mocks Ceprano.
Marullo tells the other courtiers that Rigoletto has a mistress. When Rigoletto further humiliates Count Ceprano in front of the Duke, the Duke warns Rigoletto not to push the joke too far, while the Count and the rest of the court plot their revenge on the jester. The festivities are interrupted by Count Monterone whose daughter’s honor had been taken by the Duke. After Rigoletto taunts him for trying to protest his daughter’s lost virtue. Monterone places a curse on the Duke and his jester.
Act I, Scene 2
The end of a dark and deserted street.
With Monterone’s curse weighing on his thoughts, Rigoletto encounters Sparafucile, a professional assassin, who offers to rid him of any rivals. The jester rejects his services but asks where he can be found in case his needs change. Left alone, Rigoletto compares how he and Sparafucile use their respective weapons: Rigoletto, his wit, and Sparafucile, his sword and deplores the fate that his deformity has handed him. He enters the house and is greeted by his daughter Gilda. When asks him to tell her about her family and her mother, he insists that she has no family and laments that her mother, the only one to have ever taken pity on him, died. When Gilda wants to know more he only insists that she never leave the house, except to go to church. As they are speaking, the disguised Duke slips in and recognizes Rigoletto.
After Rigoletto leaves, Gilda confesses her guilt to her caretaker Giovanna. She wonders if she should have told her father about the man who follows her to church. Suddenly she is surprised by the Duke who declares his love. As she admits her feelings for him, they are interrupted by a noise outside and he leaves. Rigoletto has returned and encounters Marullo, Borsa, and the other courtiers. They tell him that they are planning to abduct Countess Ceprano and Rigoletto offers to join them. On the pretext that they are masked, Marullo covers Rigoletto’s eyes and ears with a bandage that prevents him from seeing or hearing. They then scale the wall to Rigoletto’s house and kidnap Gilda while Rigoletto holds the ladder. When Rigoletto realizes what has happened, he recalls Monterone’s curse.
A room in the ducal palace.
The Duke is upset because upon returning to Rigoletto’s house he found that Gilda had been abducted. He wonders if she has awakened true love in his heart and voices his concern for her safety. The courtiers enter and relate to the Duke how they kidnapped Rigoletto’s “mistress” and brought her to the Palace. Realizing they are referring to Gilda, he rushes off to her. Rigoletto enters and with difficulty tries to maintain his composure as he searches for signs of his daughter. When he questions the courtiers on the previous night’s activities, they deny any knowledge of it. As he realizes that Gilda is in the next room with the Duke, he tells the courtiers that they have not abducted his mistress, but his daughter. He turns his rage on them, and when they don’t respond, he begs them to have pity on a father.
Gilda enters crying and Rigoletto demands everyone else leave the room. She tells him about the Duke’s advances, he realizes what has happened and tries to comfort her. He decides that they will leave Mantua. When Monterone addresses a portrait of the Duke on his way to prison, Rigoletto swears that Monterone will have his vengeance.
A deserted bank of the Mincio River.
Rigoletto and Gilda spy on the disguised Duke, who is awaiting the arrival of Maddalena, the assassin Sparafucile’s sister. He begins to seduce her as Rigoletto and Gilda look on. Sending his daughter away, Rigoletto pays Sparafucile half of the agreed-upon fee to murder the Duke. Leaving, Rigoletto says he will return at midnight to pay the balance and retrieve the body. As a storm approaches, Gilda returns and listens from outside as Maddalena tries to convince her brother not to kill the Duke. Sparafucile finally yields, but only if someone else comes to the tavern, supplying a replacement corpse. Gilda decides to give her life to save the Duke and knocks on the door of the tavern, where, at the storm’s peak, she is greeted by Sparafucile’s knife.
As midnight strikes, Rigoletto knocks on Sparafucile’s door. The assassin accepts the rest of the jester’s money and gives him the corpse which has been placed in a sack. Rigoletto is rejoicing over his vengeance when he hears the Duke’s voice in the distance. Opening the sack, he discovers his daughter’s body. Asking for his blessing and forgiveness for the Duke, she dies in his arms. Rigoletto realizes that he is the victim of Monterone’s curse.