Opera Scotland


Giuseppe Verdi (born Busseto, 10 October 1813; died Milan, 27 January 1901)

Francesco Maria Piave.

French play Le roi s’amuse (1832) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885).

First performance: Venice (Teatro la Fenice), 11 March 1851.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 14 May 1853.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royal Colosseum) 11 December 1867.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 18 April 1979.

Hugo’s play was set in early 16th century Paris, under the reign of the notoriously dissolute King Francis I. Even in Paris it met with censorship problems, and Verdi fell in with the strictures of the authorities by moving the action to one of the Italian ducal states of the same period. Nevertheless he was able to retain most of the elements of the character of the piece that still give it a powerful effect even today. After its initial success in Venice, it was still a controversial opera for managements to try out and was given many adjustments in the early years – it might be fun for audiences in Scotland to be exposed to a piece called Clara di Perth one day. The corruption of the court is vividly depicted in the opening scene, and Rigoletto is portrayed as a thoroughly unpleasant character. It is a sign of the power of the work and of the characterization of the title role that he must quickly gain the audience’s sympathy for the plot to work.

Main Characters
Duke of Mantua (tenor)
Matteo Borsa, a gentleman of the court (tenor)
Marullo, another gentleman (baritone)
Count Ceprano (baritone)
Rigoletto, the Duke’s jester (baritone)
Count Monterone (bass)
Sparafucile, a professional criminal (bass)
Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter (soprano)
Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister (mezzo-soprano)

Plot Summary
Events take place in or near Mantua, in northern Italy. The opening scene shows the degree of debauchery to which the court has been reduced. The Duke is attempting to seduce Countess Ceprano in spite of her husband’s objections. Monterone arrives to complain about the earlier seduction of his daughter by the Duke. Rigoletto jeers at him, and as Monterone leaves he curses both the Duke and Rigoletto, though only the jester is frightened by this. On his way home, Rigoletto is approached by Sparafucile, who offers his professional services, should they ever be required. Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, has been raised in secret, and is fascinated by a young student she has seen at church – the Duke in disguise. In spite of Rigoletto’s attempts to keep her safe, a gang of courtiers abduct her, thinking she is the jester’s mistress. Back at court, Rigoletto establishes that Gilda is now with the Duke. When she joins him, he comforts her, and when Monterone goes by, on his way to execution, Rigoletto swears he will be avenged. His attempt to have the Duke killed by Sparafucile misfires, however, and Gilda dies instead – Monterone’s curse has taken effect.


DG (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1979

Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini
Orchestra of Vienna State Opera
Piero Cappuccilli (Rigoletto), Plàcido Domingo (Duke), Ileana Cotrubas (Gilda).

As with most of the recordings he made in the later stage of his career, Giulini is not in any way rushed. However he still builds up a fair head of steam as the drama intensifies. He is greatly helped by the cast. Cappuccilli was a wonderful baritone, especially in Verdi roles, and he is difficult to fault. Cotrubas is almost ideal as Gilda – she has the power when required in the Act 2 finale and the storm trio, but is ideally girlish in the early stages. Perhaps the greatest surprise is the success Domingo has with the Duke – he was already singing Otello by this stage, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the more obviously light and youthful elements of the part. In Nicolai Ghiaurov and Kurt Moll there are two basses well suited to the roles of Sparafucile and Monterone. The only slight weakness is perhaps the unsubtle Maddalena of the Russian mezzo Elena Obraztsova. But she only appears in the last act.

OPUS ARTE (1 DVD) Sung in Italian Recorded 2000

Conductor: Edward Downes Director: David McVicar Designers: Michael Vale & Tanya McCallin.
Orchestra of Royal Opera House
Paolo Gavanelli (Rigoletto), Marcelo Alvares (Duke), Christine Schäfer (Gilda).

Edward Downes had conducted dozens of performances of Rigoletto at Covent Garden by the time this last production arrived. His pacing is superb and a vivid sense of drama builds up as soon as the curtain rises, and is maintained right to the end. The general appearance emphasises the wide contrast between squalid sets on the one hand and quite lavish costumes on the other, all well lit by Paule Constable. How well the distinctly lively goings-on in the party scenes will revive in later seasons remains to be seen, but the chorus and extras seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. Gavanelli is very effective as a nasty Rigoletto, costumed in black leather so that he looks like a little beetle scuttling around the stage. Alvarez is an excellent Duke, and Eric Halfvarson is especially good as a creepy Sparafucile. Giovan Battista Parodi as Monterone and Quentin Hayes as Marullo also make a positive impression. Christine Schäfer is perhaps slightly light voiced for some of Gilda’s more powerful moments, but the voice is well focussed.

EMI & others (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1955

Conductor: Tullio Serafin
Orchestra of La Scala Milan
Tito Gobbi (Rigoletto), Giuseppe di Stefano (Duke), Maria Callas (Gilda).

This classic old recording is still well worth hearing, in spite of the less than perfect sound quality and the cuts that were traditional.at the time. Gobbi is an extraordinarily effective Rigoletto, and Callas‘s Gilda is unusually powerful when that is required. Di Stefano’s uninhibited and open-throated singing, which can be wearing on the ear, is generally appropriate here. The veteran Serafin gives the performance plenty of energy when required. The performances in other roles are fine, with Nicola Zaccaria a good Sparafucile. Plinio Clabassi thunders effectively as Monterone (just as he did in the 1969 Edinburgh performances), and it is nice to hear the Scottish baritone William Dickie as Marullo. He sang the title role early in his career (Florence 1944) and was a leading baritone at Covent Garden in the 1950s.

The Cast

Count Ceprano
 a courtier
Count Monterone
Countess Ceprano
Duke of Mantua
 Rigoletto's daughter
 Gilda's duenna
Lady in waiting
 sister of Sparafucile
 a courtier
Matteo Borsa
 a courtier
 to the Duchess
 a jester
 a professional assassin

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