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At a lavish celebration the Duke is pursuing his great passion: the seduction of women. Today he is devoting particular attention to Countess Ceprano, whose husband must also endure the crude jokes of the jester Rigoletto. When he advises the Duke to have Ceprano killed so that he can devote his attention to the Countess untroubled, the enraged courtiers plot to take revenge on Rigoletto. Monterone, whose daughter has been dishonoured by the Duke, attempts to confront him. He is also mocked by Rigoletto whereupon he puts a curse on both the Duke and Rigoletto.
As Rigoletto makes his way home the assassin Sparafucile offers his services. Rigoletto declines – but nonetheless enquires about his methods. He is unable to forget the curse, but it slips from his mind once he arrives home, where he keeps his daughter Gilda concealed in order to protect her from the world. She is only permitted to leave the house to attend church on Sundays. She is even kept in the dark about her own true identity. Unnoticed the Duke has gained access to the hiding place where he is astonished to discover that the mysterious beauty who for weeks has been the object of his desire is in fact the daughter of Rigoletto. When her father leaves, he professes his love for her but pretends to be an impecunious student. The pair are disturbed by courtiers, who want to exact revenge on Rigoletto by kidnapping the girl they assume to be his mistress. The kidnappers are surprised by the returning Rigoletto. However, they dupe him into believing that they are kidnapping Countess Ceprano. Without realising, he assists in the abduction of his own daughter.
The Duke bemoans the disappearance of his beloved. When the courtiers inform him that they have kidnapped a girl from Rigoletto’s house and brought her with them, he swiftly realises that the object of his desire is close and rushes to the kidnapped girl. Rigoletto attempts to find out the whereabouts of Gilda but the men’s lips remain sealed. Suddenly his daughter emerges and tells her father what has gone on between her and the Duke. Rigoletto swears to take revenge.
Several months pass but still Gilda is unable to forget the Duke. With the help of Sparafucile, Rigoletto plans to lure the Duke into a trap and kill him. Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena is to act as the bait – also as a way of proving to Gilda her lover’s unfaithfulness. The Duke appears as planned and immediately starts attempting to seduce Maddalena in his customary manner. Gilda is horrified and is sent away by her father. Storm clouds gather. Rigoletto pays Sparafucile to murder the Duke. and plans to pick up the corpse at midnight. Against her father’s orders Gilda returns and witnesses an argument between Sparafucile and Maddalena, who will not permit her brother to murder the Duke. They hatch a plan to kill someone else instead. Gilda resolves to give her own life to save that of the Duke.
Rigoletto believes he has exacted his revenge. But as the storm abates he realises to his horror that the corpse handed over to him by Sparafucile is not the Duke’s but that of his daughter.
»A comic opera that goes horribly wrong.« – The protagonists in Barrie Kosky’s production of Verdi’s opera spring like jack-in-the-boxes out of cupboards and the stage floor. The clown mask takes on a threatening aspect, becoming a curse that inescapably pursues the fool, even within the orchestration.
The musical signature of Rigoletto’s oppressive curse runs through the entire score, from the first notes of the prelude to Rigoletto’s final, helpless outcry: »Ah, la maledizione!« »Planned as a nightmare, the production grows into an adventure of musical theater shot through with clowning and truly beyond compare.« [Berliner Morgenpost].
Rigoletto, Verdi's sixteenth opera, was written in 1851. Barrie Kosky, in his 2009 production, weaves a fantastic nightmare around Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda. Rigoletto is a jester at the court of the Duke of Mantova, a rampant seducer of women. The jester hides his beloved daughter from the court, hoping to protect her from its denizens, who are hardly less decadent than the duke. Rigoletto himself is an evil clown who exposes everything and everyone to ridicule. Hated and feared, he spares no one his sarcasm and cynicism. The courtiers seek revenge. Believing that Gilda is Rigoletto’s lover, they kidnap her to get back at the jester for his evil jokes. Gilda has been raised in isolation by a nurse. On a rare outing from the prison that Rigoletto has created to protect her from the world, Gilda meets a young student and falls in love. The student, however, turns out to be the duke, who is planning to turn Gilda into his next conquest. The kidnapping victim ends up with the seducer. Rigoletto wants revenge and the catastrophe continues …