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Remaking Italian Opera

Rigoletto, the dukes jester ! Felice Varesi
Gilda, his daughter ! Teresa Brambilla
Duca di Mantova ! Ra#aele Mirate
Sparafucile, an assassin ! Paolo Damini
Maddalena, his sister ! Annetta Casaloni
musical form
Five arias ! only one in double$aria form %Possente amor,
Act II&, three in single movements
Five duets
No grand nales to acts
Male chorus only, with only one formal chorus %near end of
Act I&
No aria di sortita %entrance aria& for prima donna
Elimination of recitative in Act II; sometimes unusual use of
recit elsewhere %eg., parlante duet between Rigoletto and
Sparafucile in Act I; preface to storm in Act III&
Dramma per Musica
Parker argues that the drama of the opera is centred around
Rigoletto, who typically expresses himself in a musical style
%free, orchestrally accompanied arioso& that delivers the words
with a minimum of repetition or distortion, a style that
minimizes the formal constraints music may place upon
words. 'Parker, 298(
Yet these moments are juxtaposed with traditional,
Rossinian xed forms: areas in which the words frequently
lose their semantic freshness %through distortion, selective
repetition, or rearrangement& in the service of strictly musical
closure. 'Parker, 298(
Musical Form and
The duke remains musically immobile: his
opening ballata and nal canzone are the most
stylized numbers in the opera;
In contrast, Gilda matures emotionally through
the opera, abandoning the vocal ornaments and
formal conventions of her earlier music and
increasingly adapts her musical language to that
of her father. 'Parker, 298(
Letter to Carlo Borsi, 8 September 1852:

I conceived Rigoletto without arias, without
nales, as an unbroken chain of duets, because I
was convinced that that was most appropriate.

Cesari and Luzio %eds.&, I copialettere di Giuseppe Verdi, 497.
Verdi to Piave
I have in mind a subject that would be one of the
greatest creations of the modern theatre if only
the police would allow it. Who knows? They
allowed Ernani, they might even allow us to do
this and at least there are no conspiracies in it.
Have a try! The subject is grand, immense and
theres a character in it who is one of the greatest
creations that the theatre of all countries and all
times can boast. The subject is Le roi samuse.
Other innovative
Onstage action juxtaposed by perspective of o#$
stage action
Incompleteness of words ! duke falls asleep
mid$word; Gilda dies mid$word
Operas reliance on dramatic irony
What is irony?
What is irony?
a rhetorical device playing on an incongruity
between literal and implied meaning.
what is
dramatic irony
what is
dramatic irony
When the audience has information about
events within the narrative that the character
Dramatic Irony
I, i: The courtiers believe Rigoletto has a mistress; we
learn later in the act that she is his daughter.
I, v: When the duke desires countess Ceprano, Rigoletto
advises him to kidnap her.
I, vi: Rigoletto laughs at Monterones despair and threats
of vengeance; Monterone replies: You who laugh at a
fathers grief, may you be cursed!
I, viii: Gildas belief that the duke is a poor student;
I, x: The blindfolding of Rigoletto so that he connives in
the kidnap of his own daughter %end of Act I&
Dramatic Irony
II, i: The duke thinks that he has lost Gilda; we
know she has been stolen by his courtiers;
II: Rigoletto does not know the whereabouts of his
daughter ! we do;
III: The duke thinks that La donna mobile ! we
see Gilda sacricing her life for his;
III: Sparafucile and Maddalena think Gilda is a boy;
III: Rigoletto thinks that the body in the sack is
that of the duke.
Caro nome (Gilda), Act I
Cortigiani, vil razza
dannata (Rigoletto, Act II)
Rigoletto and Love
paternal/lial a#ection
Letter to Carlo Borsi, 8 September 1852:

There would be one place, but God help us! We
would be agellated. It would be necessary to see
Gilda with the Duke in the bedroom!! Do you
understand me? In any case, it would be a duet. A
magnicent duet!! But the priests, the monks and
the hypocrites would cry scandal. Oh, happy were
the days when Diogenes could say in the public
piazza to whoever was questioning what he did:
Hominen quaero! 'I am looking for a man(

Cesari and Luzio %eds.&, I copialettere di Giuseppe Verdi, 497.
Seduction and rape
In nineteenth$century Italy, rape considered as a
crime against honour and social value, rather
than as a crime against the body and psyche
Punishment therefore designed to correct loss
of value
Marriage with the victim %rape sometimes used
as a strategy to enforce marriage&
Payment of all ensuing childbirth costs
Prison ! four$month term %1832&; three years
Gazzetta musicale di Firenze,
7 July 1853
What would 'Verdi( reply to his daughter if, taken
to Rigoletto, she asked him what the Duke did to
poor Gilda? Is it thus the theatre is meant to be an
educator? And meanwhile those would$be geniuses
drag it into the mud; and, for the wretched
satisfaction of 'making( an e#ect, demoralise,
brutalise and divide the public. Today beauty is
sought in the most peculiar formulae, in the most
atrocious crimes, in the most repugnant
Gazzetta musicale di Firenze,
29 September 1853
There you will learn that when youre at the keyhole %or
better, at the crevice of a wall, if it has one& in order to see
whats happening in the room, and you see preparations for
the killing of a man, instead of arousing the
neighbourhood in order to save him '( you must allow
yourself to be killed for him ! even more so if the person
who is doing the looking is a woman, and if the one who
must be killed is the lover who has betrayed her. Perhaps
in this case another woman, if generous, would have
shouted for help or hammered immediately on the door in
order to interrupt that bloody work, or, if vengeful, would
have left him to be killed.
Gildas death
This nal scene met with little acclamation from the critics
! even from those whom might be regarded as generally
supportive of Verdi. Abramo Basevi declared bluntly: The nal
duetto makes very little e#ect. However, it must not be
forgotten that music has nothing to lend to a situation so

Even Marco Marcelliano Marcello, whose praise for the
storm scene was fulsome, was disappointed: the nal scene,
however well$treated, does not produce the e#ect one would
wish; the spirit remains too lacerated to be able to feel other
Gildas death
Opening scene
Rigolettos scene with Sparafucile
Gilda and the Duke $ Caro nome
Rigolettos curse
Quartet, storm, Gildas death
Verdis most uid, dynamic opera to date
Characters exhibit di#erent musical personas
Characters are more psychologically developed
Duets play more dominant role
Innovative approach to vocality eg. use of male voices in
storm scene
Parlante style very apparent
Traditional conventions still used, but often put to specic
musico$dramatic e#ect