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© Copyright 2001, Jim Loy
Note: Grand opera is bigger than life. There is usually more drama, more action, more death, than in most other stories. Unfortunately, all of the characters sing their words, often in a foreign language, often simultaneously. That works fairly well, especially when the music is very good. But most people probably would prefer a simpler story-telling method, perhaps like my version of Rigoletto (opera by Giuseppe Verdi):
There is music and laughter at the duke's party. The duke says to his friend Borsa, "I am determined to complete my new adventure with this young lady."
"You mean the one that you see while going to church?"
"Yes, and every day she receives a visit from a disreputable man, every Sunday for the last three months."
"Do you know where she lives?"
A group of ladies and gentlemen walk by. Borsa says, "What charming ladies."
"Yes, but Ceprano's wife outshines them all."
"Be careful of her husband."
"What does he matter? All women are like the flowers of the field. Now I prefer this one, then that one. I flee from the boredom of fidelity. Love can only exist in complete freedom. I despise a jealous husband. And I don't care who knows of my loves and conquests."
Count Ceprano enters, and watches his wife. The duke says to her, "You are leaving already, cruel lady?"
"Yes, I must obey my husband."
"But you must stay and shine at court, as the planet Venus shines among the stars." He kisses her hand.
Rigoletto enters. He is a hunchback, and is the duke's jester. Some people do not find his jests very funny. He speaks to Count Ceprano, "What troubles you, mister Count?" The Count does not reply, and follows his wife. "The Count is furious, it seems. The duke always enjoys his parties. And now he pursues the Countess, not caring about her jealous husband." He follows the duke, Countess, and Count out of the room.
Marullo enters, and announces to the crowd, "Great news, great news. It is Rigoletto, very strange."
Someone in the crowd asks, "Has he lost his hump?"
"Stranger than that, the fool has a lover."
The duke and Rigoletto reenter the room, followed by Count Ceprano who listens in on their conversation. The duke says, "The Count is a problem, and his wife is an angel."
Rigoletto: "Steal her away."
"That is easier said than done."
"Have you no prisons?"
"Then banish him."
Count Ceprano mutters a curse under his breath.
"I cannot, buffoon."
"Cut off his head, then."
In a rage, the count draws his sword, and rushes at Rigoletto. The duke intervenes, "Stop."
Rigoletto says, "He is funny, don't you think?"
The duke, "Buffoon, you carry your jokes too far, his sword might pierce your heart."
"I do not fear him. Who would harm the duke's favorite."
Ceprano pleads with the crowd, "He must be punished. Revenge, vendetta."
Someone in the crowd, "Who among us has not been injured by the jester? But how?"
"Tomorrow night, come to me with your swords."
"We will; it is decreed."
Count Monterone enters, and in anger announces to the duke, "I will raise my voice forever against your crimes."
Rigoletto mocks, "Have you come to reclaim your daughter's honor?"
"Ah, a new insult!" To the duke, "Sorry to disturb your disgusting orgies. I will raise my voice until the honor of my injured family is restored. And even if you put me to death, my ghost shall claim my revenge."
The duke, "No more! Arrest him!"
Rigoletto, "He is mad."
Monterone, "I curse you both, forever." To Rigoletto, "And you, serpent, who dares to laugh at a father's grief, tragedy will strike you down."
Rigoletto is stunned. "What is this that I hear? Terror!"
Monterone is escorted out by soldiers. The crowd is certain that he will be put to death.
On a dark street outside Rigoletto's house, Rigoletto is walking just ahead of a man named Sparafucile, who is carrying a sword. "That man cursed me."
"Go away. I don't need you."
"I will free you from your enemy, and you do have an enemy."
"How much must I pay, to be rid of this man?"
"Just a little."
"And when must I pay you?"
"Half before, and the other half after."
"Disgusting. How do you do it?"
"At night, one thrust with this sword, he dies. My sister helps me. She dances, she is beautiful, she attracts the man I want, then..."
"Can I serve you?"
"Not now, perhaps another day."
"My name is Sparafucile. Meet me on this spot, any night."
"Go away." Rigoletto watches him go. "We are alike, my weapon is my tongue, his is his sword. That man has cursed me. Man and nature has made me wicked. To be deformed, and a buffoon. I am forced to laugh when other people cry. I hate them all, and so I love to torment them, and make my Duke laugh. That man has cursed me. Why does that thought haunt me?" He enters the gate to his house.
Beautiful, young Gilda rushes into his arms. "Father!"
"You are my only hope. What do I have except my Gilda?" He sighs sadly.
"Why are you sad? Tell me your secrets. And tell me of my family."
"You have no family. Do you ever leave the house?"
"I only go to church. If you will not tell me your name or rank, at least tell me who my mother is."
"Do not make me remember that sad memory. She alone loved me. She died. And now you are my only treasure."
"Father, we have been here for three months, and you have never allowed me to see the city."
"You must never leave this house." To himself, "She might be followed. She might be stolen." Giovanna, the housekeeper enters. "Woman, watch over this flower. There is someone outside." Rigoletto opens the gate, and the duke (in disguise) sneaks in and throws a bag of money to the housekeeper.
Gilda, not having seen the duke, "He is always so suspicious."
Rigoletto returns, "There was no one there. If anyone knocks, you must never open the gate."
Giovanna, "Not even the duke?"
"Especially not the duke." Then to Gilda, "Good night, my child."
The duke gasps, "His child!" Rigoletto leaves through the gate.
Gilda, "I feel so guilty. I did not tell him of the handsome man who follows me to church."
Giovanna, "He seems to be rich."
"No, riches do not matter to me. It would be better if he were poor. I think of him day and night. My heart overflows with love..."
The duke throws himself at Gilda's feet. "With love, with love, say it again, that my soul shall be content." Giovanna leaves.
"Giovanna! She's gone. There is no one to defend me."
"It is I, your lover. I will defend you against the world."
"No. The same love burns in our hearts. Our love will last forever. Nothing matters but our love. Only true love is real. Love me, and all men will envy me."
"These are very like the words that I heard and said in my dream."
"Let me hear again, 'I love you.'"
"You heard that? Tell me your name."
"My name..." He pauses to think. "...is Walter Malde. I am a poor student... poor..."
Giovanna returns, frightened, "Someone is coming."
Gilda, to the duke, "Go quickly."
"Do you love me?"
"Forever, yes, and..."
"No more, no more, depart." The duke is led away by Giovanna.
"Walter Malde. Sweet name, you are already engraved upon my heart. I shall love you forever."
Outside the walls, in the dark, several courtiers are disguised in masks. They watch Gilda through the gate. "There she is."
"Like an angel."
"Is that the lover of Rigoletto?"
Rigoletto appears. "Who is there in the dark?"
"Hush. It's Rigoletto."
Marullo, "Ah Rigoletto, please don't betray us. We just came to have some fun. We are going to steal away Ceprano's wife. You can help us by holding the ladder. Here, put on this mask." He ties a handkerchief over Rigoletto's eyes.
"It's so dark. And I can't hear you."
A couple of the men climb the ladder, and break a window, and enter Rigoletto's house. They descend and open the gate from the inside. All but Rigoletto enter through the gate. Soon they come out, carrying a struggling Gilda who is bound and gagged. She manages an indistinct, "Father, help!" Her cries become fainter as they carry her off down the street.
Rigoletto, "Are they done? What joke is this, a cloth over my eyes?" He tears the handkerchief from his head. He enters the open gate, and confronts Giovanna. Rigoletto tries to speak, but cannot. Finally he falls to the ground, "The curse!"
The duke is in his palace, and is recalling the features of Gilda's beautiful face.
Several courtiers rush into the room, "Duke, Duke! Last night we stole away Rigoletto's mistress." They tell the story of how they deceived Rigoletto.
To his horror, the duke begins to realize that the woman that they have kidnapped is Gilda. "Where have you taken her?"
"She is here, in your palace." The duke runs off to find Gilda.
Rigoletto enters. Hate and anguish fills every part of him and every word he utters.
"Sh, he is here. Be silent." Several courtiers say, "Good morning, Rigoletto."
"They have deceived me."
Ceprano, "What news, buffoon."
"That you are more of a nuisance than ever." The crowd laughs. "Where can they have taken my child?" To Marullo, "The cold night air last night seems to have done you no harm."
"Last night? I slept all night."
"Then I suppose I was dreaming." He finds a handkerchief, then throws it on the floor, "It's not hers." To the crowd, "Is the Duke still asleep?" The crowd agrees that the duke is still asleep.
A page enters, "The Duchess must see the duke."
Ceprano, "He sleeps."
"But he was here just now."
"Go away, he cannot be disturbed."
Rigoletto, "So, she is here. She is with the duke."
"The lady you have stolen last night from my own house."
"You are delirious."
"I shall rescue her. She must be here."
"If you have lost your mistress, look elsewhere."
In anguish, "Ahhh, give me back my daughter!"
The entire crowd, "His daughter!"
"Yes my daughter, give me back my child." He goes toward a door. The crowd bars his way. "Damned courtiers, cowards. For what price have you sold my child?" He again tries to go to the door, but they prevent him. He falls to his knees in tears, "Give back the daughter to the old man. My friends, my lords, have pity on me."
Gilda enters, and runs to Rigoletto's arms. Rigoletto, "Gilda, my only child. I cried, but now I laugh. But why are you crying?"
"The shame, oh, father."
"What are you saying?"
"I cannot speak in the presence of so many."
Rigoletto, to the courtiers, "Away, go away." They leave, subdued, perhaps in shame, and close the door behind them. "Now speak. We are alone."
"Heaven, give me courage. Each Sunday, while I went to church..." Gilda tells the story of her love for the handsome young man, and of the kidnapping.
Rigoletto, to himself, "I will have vengeance. It is my only wish."
Gilda, "Father, in spite of his deceit, I still love him."
Rigoletto and Gilda are on the bank of a river, near an inn. "And do you still love him."
"And yet you have had sufficient time to overcome your passion."
"Weak is the heart of a woman. But I will have my revenge."
"Have pity, my father. He loves me"
"You must see." He leads her to the door of the inn.
Through the partially open door, she sees the duke. Surprised, she exclaims, "Ah Father."
The duke, disguised as a soldier, is speaking to Sparafucile, "I desire a room and some wine." He sings his song about how women change their minds from moment to moment. And men are foolish to trust the heart of a woman. But there is no happiness greater than the sweet kiss of a woman.
Sparafucile sets a bottle and two glasses before the duke. Sparafucile knocks twice on the ceiling with his sword, and at that signal Magdelena, a pretty girl dressed as a gypsy, descends the stairs. The duke rushes to embrace her. Giggling, she eludes him.
Sparafucile has gone outside to talk to Rigoletto. "There is your man. Does he live or die?"
"Wait awhile, and I will decide."
Inside, the duke pleads with Magdelena, "Kiss me."
"You are drunk."
"With love for you."
"Signor, you are joking."
"No, no, I want to marry you."
"If so, then give me your word of honor."
"You're a charming girl."
Outside, Gilda, "The cruel traitor!" Inside, the duke continues to plead with Magdelena, who continues to rebuff him. Outside, Gilda is experiencing the end of the world, "I still love the man who I should hate."
Rigoletto, "Silence. It is time for me to enact our vengeance." He instructs her to flee to Verona, disguised as a man. "Tomorrow I shall join you there." Rigoletto approaches Sparafucile, "Here is your money. After the deed you get the rest. Is he still here?"
"I shall return at midnight. I wish to throw his body into the river myself." It grows dark, and there is thunder.
Sparafucile enters the inn. Magdelena is playfully eluding the duke's grasp. Sparafucile says, "We shall have some rain."
The duke, "That is good. I can stay here in your room. You can sleep in the stable, or wherever."
Magdelena, "No, you must depart."
The duke, "In this weather?"
Sparafucile, "I will show you the room."
The duke whispers to Magdelena, and then follows Sparafucile up the stairs. Sparafucile returns.
Magdelena, "He is certainly an amiable young man."
"He is indeed." He shows her the money. "Go see if he is asleep. If so then bring his sword."
Gilda has returned, dressed as a man, and listens to the following conversation from outside the inn.
Sparafucile is busy drinking. Magdelena comes down the stairs, and places the duke's sword on the table in front of him. Magdelena, "That young man is as handsome as Apollo. I love him, and he loves me. Do not kill him."
"Mend this sack. When I kill your handsome Apollo, I must throw him into the river."
"You can earn your money and spare his life."
"And how can I do that?"
"Kill the hunchback when he returns, and take his money."
"Kill the hunchback? Am I a thief? I am a man of honor. I can never betray a client."
"Please save him, for me."
"Oh, Very well, if any other man walks through that door before midnight, I will kill him instead."
Gilda gathers up her courage, and knocks on the door.
Magdelena, "Who is there?"
"Have pity on a stranger. Let me stay the night."
Sparafucile frantically searches for a dagger. When he finds it, he instructs Magdelena, "I am ready, open the door."
Rigoletto returns. There is lightning and thunder. He knocks on the door.
Sparafucile opens the door, "Who is there?"
"It is I."
Sparafucile drags a large sack to the door, and gives it to Rigoletto. "Your man is dead. The money please." Rigoletto hands over a purse full of coins. Sparafucile says, "I will help you throw him into the river."
"No, I will do it." He drags the sack away. "Ah happiness! I was the jester, and he was the duke. Now he lies dead at my feet. At last I have my revenge. Soon the river shall be his grave." Then he hears the Duke in the distance, singing his song about the fickleness of women. "That voice! Is it a ghost? Or have I been deceived?" Trembling, he opens the sack. "My daughter! God in heaven! My daughter Gilda!" He falls in a heap upon the ground.
Note: As I rewrote this story I was struck by the power of some of it:
And I think the story has a couple of weaknesses. We are given a very meager sampling of Rigoletto's cruel jests, which the duke finds so amusing. And, although the ending is clever (hearing the duke's song), I don't think there is very much suspense involved.
Apparently the duke was originally a king. But the censors made Verdi change it for political reasons.
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