Rigoletto is one of those operas that I would not use to introduce someone to opera in a general way. This is not because there is anything wrong with it, but it does have the types of squishy areas as far as story goes that are (according to what I am told) often off-putting to folks who are not yet completely won over to the art form. (If I were going to introduce someone to opera, I’d give them Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. You can’t beat Mozart in terms of music, and the story is humorous and lively and makes sense from beginning to end. Then again, I know more than one person who got hooked not via a specific opera, but via excerpts, clips or bits of things, and only after a long parade of recital CDs and YouTube videos took the plunge and went whole hog. I believe we have had enough of idioms for this paragraph now.)
With Verdi’s Rigoletto there are some moments where even the committed Verdi fan is left with raised eyebrows or, less charitably, giggling a little bit. First of all, when someone in Act I tells Rigoletto “YOU WILL CARRY THE JOKE TOO FAR” one is not left in any degree of suspense as to whether something unpleasant is about to happen vis-a-vis jokes being carried too far. And not long after that we have:
1. Gilda has apparently never asked Rigoletto about her mother before – but hey, now’s as good a time as any, right? (How old is this girl? Seventeen? Eighteen? Then again, if your dad keeps you locked up in the house all the time except for church, there are probably plenty of things in the world that it’s never occurred to you to ask too many questions about. See item #3.)
2. It is awfully convenient that the Contessa di Ceprano’s palace is like right around the corner from Casa Rigoletto, no?
3. Gilda is abducted and taken to the Duke’s house; the Duke realizes that she is there and goes rushing in; Rigoletto shows up looking for her; Gilda reappears a fallen woman. Gilda and the Duke are out of the way for “Povero Rigoletto!” and “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” which, together, add up to a total of seven minutes and fifty-three seconds. At the risk of seeming crass, it is perhaps small wonder that the Duke has to go from woman to woman – I can’t imagine the experience is such as to create very many repeat customers.
4. In Act III, the assassin Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena disagree as to whether to kill the Duke or not. They arrive at a compromise. Sparafucile will knife, without looking, whoever happens to come through the door. They carry out this plan, Sparafucile hands the body in a bag over to Rigoletto, and he leaves. I have never worked as a hired assassin, but this strikes me as pretty half-assed. Particularly the leaving without checking to see if the person you have shivved is well and truly dead. Because it turns out that the person – it’s Gilda – is not, at least not yet. She gets there eventually, though.
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