The plot and the protagonists of RigolettoCast of Characters
Gilda: Rigoletto's daughter, a pious young girl who only leaves her house to go to church. The Duke has fallen in love with her.
Maddalena: Sparafucile's sister, a woman of loose morals.
Giovanna: Gilda's nurse and Rigoletto's housekeeper. An elderly woman, she is easily bribed by the Duke to keep his presence in the garden unknown.
Duke of Mantua: A handsome, wealthy, charming, and selfish ladies' man.
Rigoletto: The hunchbacked jester of the Duke's court. He hates the Duke and his depraved courtiers; the only joy in his life is his daughter Gilda.
Sparafucile: A hired assassin who operates from a tavern on the outskirts of town.
Ceprano: A member of the Duke's court. He endures Rigoletto's mockery when the Duke pursues his wife.
Count Monterone: A courtier whose daughter is seduced by the Count. Mercilessly teased by Rigoletto, Monterone places a curse on the jester.
The Ducal Palace in Mantua
A crowd of lords and ladies in magnificent costume are taking part in festivities. The Duke confidentially reveals to his courtier Borsa his intention to seduce a beautiful girl he has met in church and whose name he still does not know. The Duke is a libertine and is merely indulging a whim, as he has done on many other occasions. He flirts with the Countess of Ceprano and, with the aid of his court jester Rigoletto, even makes fun of her husband. The festivities are at their height when the Count of Monterone accuses the Duke of dishonouring his daughter. However, everyone cries out at this disturbance; and as the Count is led away by two soldiers, he curses the jester for pouring scorn on a father's grief. Rigoletto feels the curse weigh heavily on his heart.
A lonely back street
Later, when in a lonely back street Rigoletto meets the brigand Sparafucile, who offers his services as a hired assassin, he realizes that he himself is no better than that rascal. In a state of great agitation he returns home and affectionately greets his daughter Gilda, who begs him to tell her something about her dead mother. But this is a subject he finds too painful. And, as if struck by some sad premonition, he forbids his daughter to leave the house for any reason whatever, and orders the governess Giovanna to guard this precious creature. Nevertheless as soon as he has left the house, Giovanna betrays his trust and lets the disguised Duke of Mantua enter the courtyard in secret to have an impassioned encounter with Gilda, who is unaware of his true identity. The sound of footsteps forces the cynical wooer to retire, leaving the girl alone to dream of the false name her lover has told her. Rigoletto is ill at ease; as he hurriedly makes his way homewards in the darkness, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by a group of courtiers on their way to abduct the woman they believe to be the jester's lover. When they meet Rigoletto, they play a cruel trick on him: Marullo and Borsa hint that they intend to kidnap the Countess of Ceprano: Rigoletto is given no option but to join them, put on a mask and hold the ladder. Only too late does he realize that it is his own daughter they are abducting, and cries out in horror.
The rooms of the Ducal Palace
The Duke, who has just learned that Gilda has been abducted, is in a state of despair. He is already planning his revenge when his courtiers arrive and waggishly recount how they abducted Rigoletto's 'lover', who is none other than Gilda. The Duke is elated to hear that his latest prey is now safe in the Ducal palace, and makes haste to join her. A disconsolate Rigoletto then arrives. His appearance is greeted with derision by the courtiers. Overcome with suffering he confesses who the kidnapped woman really is, and begs them to return his daughter to him unharmed. He even tries to force his way into the Ducal apartments but meets strong resistance from the courtiers, whom he violently abuses. After another desperate attempt, Gilda herself finally appears and throws herself into her father's arms. In tears she tells him of the outrage she was subjected to. When the courtiers leave the room, the wretched girl tells her father how she innocently fell in love with the Duke. Rigoletto's anguish knows no bounds and, as the Count of Monterone is being led away to prison, he furiously proclaims that there shall be vengeance.
Gilda and her father are together at a deserted spot along the banks of the River Mincio outside the city, near a dilapidated house where Sparafucile has set up a tavern. Gilda is still in love with the Duke. In order to cure her of her passion, Rigoletto has brought her to this disreputable place, where the Duke is soon expected to arrive in disguise and order from the innkeeper some good wine and a room. The Duke sings a song that expresses his philosophy of love, and starts to flirt with Maddalena, Sparafucile's sister. Unseen, Gilda looks on in despair. To comfort her, her father tells her he is about to wreak vengeance, so he presses her to make haste to Verona, in male clothing so as not to attract attention. As soon as she has gone, Rigoletto engages Sparafucile to murder the Duke. This time, however, Maddalena refuses to look on while her brother does his dirty work. She has taken a liking to the unknown gentleman staying at the tavern. A storm is brewing. Eventually Sparafucile gives in to his sister's passionate pleading and agrees to kill the first person to appear at the tavern in the Duke's stead. Gilda, who has returned and overheard their conversation decides to sacrifice her own life for her unfaithful lover. Her intentions are then accomplished in the darkness of the tavern. The clock strikes midnight. The storm is dying down and Rigoletto returns to collect his due. Sparafucile, after collecting his fee consigns to the jester a bloody sack, adding that the body must be immediately thrown into the river. Rigoletto wants to be alone. His moment of triumph suddenly turns to panic when he hears the voice of the Duke singing his song from the tavern. He tears the sack open and, in a flash of lightning, recognizes his mortally wounded daughter. As she dies, she begs her father's forgiveness. Rigoletto, in a frenzy, is left to cry out at the curse.