Osmond made every movement count. An especially striking scene was the progressive gathering of the unsavory mob preparing for the nocturnal kidnapping of Gilda outside her house, ominous shrouded figures milling around on the dark street carrying dim lanterns.
Rigoletto, court jester to the philandering Duke of Mantua, is cursed by the father of one of the Duke’s victims. When Rigoletto’s daughter becomes the Duke’s next conquest, the jester vows revenge. But the curse is taking effect…
Duke of Mantua
Verdi intended Rigoletto to be a sequence of duets, so it is unsurprising that many of the characters can be paired. Within the opera’s tight structure, each relationship and encounter contrasts with another.
Forces are twinned in conflict, too. At the heart of Rigoletto there is a battle between beauty and deformity. This manifests itself most clearly in the physical distinction between the hunchbacked jester and the lusty Duke. There may be similarities between servant and master – Monterone curses them both, and neither can control their impulses – yet there are deep, human contradictions between their inner and outer forms, and between appearance and action. As a result, the audience’s allegiance is never clear-cut. Verdi himself remarked, “That is what seemed so wonderful to me: to portray this ridiculous, terribly deformed creature, who is inwardly filled with passion and love.”
This love proves to be as devastating a power as the Duke’s charisma. Rigoletto adores his daughter, yet is unable to tell her about his profession or her family. His love inspires guilt; no wonder Gilda turns to the tactile Duke in disguise.
In the tempestuous final act, the boundaries between good and evil, between right and wrong, are irrevocably blurred. Rigoletto may claim the Duke is Crime and he is Punishment, but the Duke escapes unscathed. He even remains blissfully ignorant of the sacrifice Gilda made.
What can this outcome mean? What lesson is this father being forced to learn? Is Rigoletto condemned for overreaching? For taking on the mantle of justice? In the opera’s closing moments, while Gilda begs forgiveness for herself and the Duke, Rigoletto still blames the curse for his misfortune. Why does he refuse to recognise his flaws, or take responsibility for his actions?
This story shocks because its conclusion cannot be dismissed easily or resolved. Perhaps we need to return to Rigoletto to question our own nature, and discover where a more merciful path may lie.
Even when I am directing on a large scale, I try to provide performers with detailed suggestions for their characterisation. For me, it is essential to provide both grand visual gestures, and also something far more intimate and personal that can draw the audience forward in their seats.
In this production, Monterone seizes Rigoletto by the hand as he curses him. For the rest of the opera, Rigoletto feels that the curse is embodied within his hand. So he never touches his daughter, fearing that he might pass the curse on to her; and this increases the tension between them, that lack of ease with each other’s company. Only at the end, as Gilda is dying, does her father wrap his arms around her in a tight embrace.