by Giuseppe Verdi
Roberto Kalb, Conductor
Kathleen Belcher, Director
Friday, February 15 at 8 PM
Sunday, February 17 at 2 PM
Sung in Italian with projected English supertitles
Cynical. Reviled. And desperate for revenge.
Rigoletto – he is the jaded jester who laughs as he aids his debauched master the Duke in seducing the wives and daughters of the court’s noblemen. These men hate Rigoletto with a passion, and only his daughter Gilda brings sunlight to his life.
But then comes tragedy on a catastrophic scale. Rigoletto’s enemies want revenge. The Duke sets his sights on Gilda. Rigoletto’s desperate plan to avenge his defiled daughter goes tragically wrong.
Originally banned by the censors, Rigoletto is a work of genius. Here is Verdi’s first incomparably great characterization, Shakespearean in its complexity and grandeur. Experience the masterwork that rivets audience with its incendiary drama and outpouring of famous melodies, including the achingly poignant Rigoletto/Gilda duets and the Duke’s ode to the fickleness of women: La Donna é mobile.
*Kentucky Opera debut
Winner of the American Prize for an Orchestral Composition, 2nd prize in the Washington International Composition Competition, and the Ann Arbor Symphony Sight and Sound Competition. Kalb’s music has been performed in Mexico, France, Germany and throughout the United States.
*Kentucky Opera debut
There cannot be enough said about the effectiveness of Kathleen Smith Belcher’s stage direction. In her Sarasota Opera debut, this veteran of the Met and other major stages of the opera world, added a new level of entertainment excellence for us to enjoy.
Anthony Clark Evans*
*Kentucky Opera debut
This Kentucky baritone is on the road to stardom with “a voice of great beauty (Opera Today) and “superb vocal-ism.”
St. Louis Post Dispatch
*Kentucky Opera debut
With her “pure and ardent voice” (San Antonio Express News) this rising Armenian soprano is ideally cast as Gilda.
The Duke of Mantua
Last seen in Kentucky Opera’s 2017-2018 production of The Barber of Seville.
Praised for his golden sound, “he is standout” (Opera News) who garners impressive acclaim with the country’s leading opera companies.
Kentucky native, and last seen in Kentucky Opera’s 2017-2018 production of Ariadne auf Naxos.
“…a vocal powerhouse of dark, burnished bronze, seamless throughout its range, a steady flow of gorgeous sound.”
*Kentucky Opera debut
“A formidable presence…”
by Kathleen Belcher
The courtiers are enjoying the pleasures of court life, drinking and celebrating to no end. The Duke of Mantua sings of his appreciation for the Countess Ceprano, with no regard for his subjects who hear him. He boasts of his new project: a young girl whom he has seen every Sunday morning at church for three months.
He proudly proclaims his philosophy on women (“Questa o quella”), “Charming women, whatever their name and rank, I always pursue them with equal abandon…if today one should beckon inviting, then tomorrow for another my passion may burn!”
The title character makes his entrance provoking anyone he can with his bitter and caustic actions. Rigoletto encourages the Duke to romantically pursue the Countess Ceprano. Fuming, Count Ceprano vows vengeance on Rigoletto as his “sharp evil tongue has offended us all.”
The Count plans to abduct a young girl believed to be Rigoletto’s mistress. The ensemble is joined by the courtiers agreeing to vengeance, but also occupied with music, dancing and pleasure, “charming women, wine and play.”
Count Monterone arrives, angrily accusing the Duke of having had his way with Monterone’s daughter. Rigoletto ridicules him and the Duke orders Monterone to be arrested. As he is dragged out, Monterone calls down a curse on Rigoletto and the Duke. The jester is terror-stricken by Monterone’s curse.
The curse weighs heavy on Rigoletto. On his way home, he encounters Sparafucile, the local assassin. Sparafucile offers his services but Rigoletto rejects his offer saying he has no need of them. Once alone again, Rigoletto compares his own work to that of the assassin. He claims, “We are equal! I, the jester, and he the murderer! I stab with cold derision, he with the dagger.”
Once Rigoletto enters his home, he shifts into the role of father as his daughter, Gilda, joins him. She asks about her mother, who died long ago. She also asks her father’s family name, which he hides from her for her safety. Rigoletto protects his daughter, allowing her only to leave home to attend church, where she has secretly fallen in love with a young man.
The man happens to be spying on the house and promptly appears as Rigoletto leaves. We discover that the young man Gilda has fallen in love with is actually the Duke. He bribes the nurse, Giovanna, into letting him into the garden, where he sings a love song to Gilda, claiming to be a poor student. The two have a tender love duet.
After the Duke departs, the courtiers gather outside the house in a plan to abduct Gilda, who they believe to be Rigoletto’s mistress. Rigoletto comes across this gathering and is tricked into helping the courtiers, believing they are kidnapping the Countess Ceprano. After the deed is done, he realizes what has happened and is utterly distraught. He recalls the curse as the curtain descends.
Back in the palace, the somber Duke is missing Gilda, but he is soon excited to hear that the noblemen have just kidnapped her for his pleasure. He rushes off to greet his prize as Rigoletto enters, trying to appear like nothing is wrong. But soon Rigoletto breaks down, demanding the courtiers return her.
Gilda emerges from the Duke’s chambers. Rigoletto becomes increasingly angry as Gilda shares what has happened to her. Gilda, still very much in love, defends the Duke’s actions.
Rigoletto brings Gilda to the inn run by the assassin Sparafucile and his sister, Maddalena to prove to Gilda that the Duke is not faithful to her.
The Duke sings the famous aria, “La donna e mobile”, and despite overhearing everything, Gilda remains in love. Rigoletto instructs her to return home and dress as a boy to disguise herself as they prepare for their escape to Verona. In the meantime, Rigoletto has arranged for the murder of the Duke. Sparafucile is to kill the Duke and present the body in a sack for Rigoletto.
Gilda, disguised as a boy, makes her fateful return to the tavern. She overhears Maddalena trying to convince Sparafucile not to kill the Duke. Sparafucile agrees to kill the first person to come to the door before midnight; if no one comes the Duke will die. Gilda, still deeply in love, resolves to sacrifice herself. She knocks on the door and is stabbed by Sparafucile.
Rigoletto returns and is given the sack by Sparafucile. He boasts over what he believes is the body of the Duke. Rigoletto’s thoughts are interrupted by the sounds of the Duke singing. In a panic, Rigoletto cuts open the sack to find his beloved daughter inside! With her dying breath, Gilda begs for forgiveness. Monterone’s curse has come to pass!
Giuseppe Verdi Bio
Giuseppe Verdi was born on October 10, 1813 in Le Roncole, a small village in the Duchy of Parma. Contrary to the composer’s claim that he was of illiterate peasants, Carlo and Luigia Verdi both came from families of landowners and traders. As a youth, Verdi’s natural fascination with music was enhanced by his father’s purchase of an old spinet piano. Soon he was substituting as organist at the town church, a position he would later assume and hold for a number of years. Carlo Verdi’s interactions with Antonio Barezzi, a wealthy merchant and music enthusiast from nearby Busseto, led to Giuseppe’s move to the larger town and to a more formalized music education. Lodging in his benefactor’s home, Verdi gave singing and piano lessons to Barezzi’s daughter, Margherita, who later became the composer’s first wife.
Encouraged by his benefactor, Verdi applied to the Milan Conservatory, his tuition to be funded in part by a scholarship for poor children and the balance to be paid by Barezzi. The conservatory rejected his application because of his age (he was quite older than most of the students accepted) and uneven piano technique, but Verdi remained in Milan under the tutorship of Vincenzo Livigna, a maestro al cembal (Director of Music) at the Teatro alla Scala. After making useful contacts in Milan and writing a number of small compositions, Verdi was offered a contract by La Scala for an opera, Oberto (1839).
Oberto achieved modest success, and Verdi was offered another commission from La Scala for a comedy. The composer had suffered great personal loss. In the space of two years his wife and two small children had all died. Written under a dark cloud, Il regno di giorno (1840) failed in the theater, and Verdi withdrew from any further engagements. It was due to a chance meeting with Merelli who had just discovered a new libretto that Verdi returned to the stage. Nabucco (1842) was a huge triumph and catapulted Verdi’s career forward. The “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” remains an anthem for Italy. The opera’s story of unification inspired Verdi to consider the greater cause and brought him out of a deep depression.
Between 1843 and 1853 he premiered 15 new operas and one revision, often while experiencing regular bouts of ill-health. Most of these works featured grandiose historical settings, sometimes representing the plight of a repressed people. The composer became associated with the Risorgimento, the political movement to unify Italy. The revolution had a temporary setback in 1848, and Verdi’s operas began to feature more intimate, personal relationships. This transition is crowned by three of his most popular works: Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore and La Traviata (both 1853).
The inspiration for Rigoletto came a few years earlier. In 1847, the first of his Shakespearean operas, Macbeth, premiered. He took on Shakespeare with great respect and precision, holding the playwright’s characters in the highest esteem. In fact, Shakespeare became a benchmark by which Verdi would judge other authors. When Verdi came across the play Le Roi s’amuse by French author Victor Hugo, for example, Verdi claimed the work was “perhaps the greatest drama of modern times”, and that the main character was a “creation worthy of Shakespeare.”
The main character in the Hugo play was the court Jester, Triboulet, to historic King Francis I. The king is portrayed as a partier, taking advantage of the women at his disposal. Triboulet, his much-hated jester, antagonizes the court by encouraging immorality all around. A courtier curses Triboulet, which Triboulet uses as an excuse to fuel his hatred, ultimately leading to the death of his daughter.
Verdi claims the idea to adapt Hugo’s play to an opera came to him “like a flash of lighting,” but historical evidence suggests that Verdi mused on the idea for a while before actually pursuing it.
Hugo’s play premiered at the Parisian Théatre Fraçais in 1832. One performance was all the government needed to suspend all future performances, as they ardently opposed the immorality and more so, the extremely negative implications on royal and aristocratic behavior. The play was not performed again in Paris for another fifty years, in 1882. Hugo did succeed in publishing the play and included a lengthy and in depth defense of his work in the preface.
Verdi was quite familiar with and convinced by this defense. He chose collaborator, Francesco Marie Piave, who had written five previous librettos for him, and would write five more, including Rigoletto. Conveniently, Piave was also the resident poet at the theatre Fenice. Verdi entrusted Piave with the seemingly impossible task of receiving the appropriate permissions from the censors to pursue the opera. It was a matter of immediate concern for Verdi, as he wrote to Piave, “As soon as you get this letter…run about the city and find someone of influence to get us permission to do Le Roi s’amuse. Don’t go to sleep; give yourself a good shake; do it at once.”
As a contingency in the event the original title’s rights were not granted, Verdi maintained La Maledizione di Saint-Vallier, or “The Curse of Saint-Vallier” as a working title. In the height of romanticism, Verdi viewed everything in the story unfolding as the result of the curse. He saw a man who is both the victim and the culprit. His fervent extremes to protect his daughter lead to his undoing and exacerbate his tragic quest for revenge. This is also the perspective he hoped the censors would embrace.
When the libretto was submitted for approval, the censors were, of course, appalled and disappointed that Verdi would choose such a grotesque story. Eventually, the censors and Verdi came to an agreement on how to proceed with the story.
Rather than the court of King Francis I, the story would take place in the fictional court of The Duke of Mantua. All the characters would then be adjusted accordingly, adapting different names. Triboulet would become Rigoletto.
But many of the details stayed in place. Rigoletto would still blame society for rejecting him physically, causing him to reject them with his vicious words. He would still be cursed. The Duke would seduce and take advantage of Rigoletto’s daughter, and he would seek revenge, hiring an assassin to murder The Duke. The daughter, Gilda, naïve, lonely and love sick, would sacrifice herself for the Duke. In the end, Rigoletto blames the curse, not his desire for vengeance.
There would be no redemption for Rigoletto, only a slim comfort of Gilda reuniting in death with her mother. The Duke would not get his comeuppance in the end. The story would remain a horribly grim drama.
Once the negotiations were made, Verdi wrote the bulk of the score in 40 days. The 1851 premiere was a huge success, and the show remained popular with audiences, despite the censors’ continued efforts to discredit the opera. In the decade after it premiered, Rigoletto enjoyed over 250 performances.
Rigoletto marks a transition from Verdi’s early period to his middle period of composition. This shift is also seen as inspiring a new direction in Italian opera. While the previous structures were not entirely forgotten, Verdi wanted to explore new ways of marrying musical form with dramatic realism. English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams considered Rigoletto to be Verdi’s greatest achievement.
Toward the end of the 1840s Verdi considered an early retirement at Sant’Agata, for himself and his companion, Giuseppina Strepponi, a retired soprano. Verdi’s pace slowed as he became more interested in farming and less involved in the frustrating politics of the theater. His style began to change to a more free-flowing, dramatically truthful style. Some of his greatest pieces belong to this era: Simon Boccanegra (1857), Un ballo in maschera (1859), La forza del destino ( 1862), Don Carlos (1867)], which concluded with what most thought was his swan song, the spectacular grand opera Aida (1871).
Following Aida, Verdi firmly stated that he had retired for good. However, he was coaxed out of his retreat by a lifelong love of Shakespeare; he produced Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893) to great acclaim.
Verdi’s final years were focused on two philanthropic projects, a hospital in the neighboring town of Villanova, and a rest home for aged and indigent musicians in Milan, the Casa di Riposo Verdi died in Milan on January 27, 1901. His passing was an occasion of national mourning. Two hundred thousand people lined the streets as the “Va, pensiero” chorus from Nabucco was sung by an eight-hundred-person choir led by conductor Arturo Toscanini.
The Duke of Mantua
Anthony Clark Evans*