Rigoletto, court jester to the libertine Duke of Mantua, is cursed by the father of one of the Duke’s victims. When Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda comes to the attention of the Duke, it seems that the curse is taking effect.
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Giuseppe Verdi wrote in 1855 that Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, was his ‘best opera’. He had to overcome state censorship to stage it – the censors objected to its depiction of an immoral ruler – but he was vindicated by the premiere’s huge success in 1851. Rigoletto was performed 250 times in the next 10 years and has remained one of the most popular of all operas.
David McVicar’s production represents the cruelty and degeneracy at the heart of the court of Mantua. Richly dressed courtiers engage in brutal orgies and revelries, accompanied by spirited dance melodies. In contrast, Rigoletto lives in a rundown hovel and laments his lowly position in a powerful soliloquy. Other musical highlights include the jaunty ‘La donna è mobile’, in which the Duke boasts of his disregard for women; Gilda’s exquisite duets with Rigoletto and the Duke her lover; and the quartet in Act III that binds the voices together, as the story hastens to its shattering conclusion.