Hvorostovsky is Rigoletto

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Conlon, Conductor
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Rigoletto
Eglise Gutierrez, Gilda
Stefano Secco, Duke of Mantua
Morris Robinson, Sparafucile
Natascha Petrinsky, Maddalena
Jason Stearns, Monterone
Singers from Steans Institute

Saturday, August 15, 2009
4:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
5:00 PM
Public Gates Open
7:30 PM
Concert Starts
Reserved $95/$55
Lawn $20


In order of vocal appearance
STEFANO SECCO, Duke of Mantua
HAK SOO KIM, Matteo Borsa
VALERIE VINZANT, Countess Ceprano
JONATHAN BEYER, Count Ceprano/Court Usher

    Act I, Scene 1: A magnificent hall in the ducal palace
    Act I, Scene 2: The deserted end of a blind alley
    Act II: A salon in the ducal palace


    Act III: Outside a tavern on a bank of the Mincio

Projected English Titles © 2000 by FRANCIS RIZZO

Screen on the Lawn

About The Artist

In order of appearance


Tenor Stefano Secco began his studies of piano and singing under the guidance of Alberto Soresina and subsequently received a diploma in percussion with Tullio De Piscopo. He privately followed such conductors as Franco Corelli and Franca Mattiucci and attended master classes led by Leyla Gencer and Renata Scotto, among others. After his first professional experiences and various tours in Italy and abroad, he sang the role of Fenton in Verdi’s Falstaff at the Teatro Verdi of Sassariand was immediately engaged at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome as the tenor soloist in Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and Berlioz’s Te Deum. In the same theater he sang the role of Rodolfo in a successful production of Puccini’s La bohème. Following these performances Secco was cast to sing the role of the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Teatro Regio of Turin, the Vienna State Opera, the Theater of Toulouse, the Frankfurt Theater and the Massimo Theatre of Palermo, among others. Secco has also performed as Puccini’s Rodolfo at the Teatro Regio of Parma, Opera Bastille in Paris and at the Puccini Festival in Torre Del Lago; as Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata in Venice, Tokyo, Barcelona, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Florence and at La Scala in Milan; and as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, at the Puccini Festival in Torre Del Lago and at the Comunale Theatre of Florence. He achieved success at the Philharmonic Theatre of Verona in the role of Osiride in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto under the direction of Claudio Scimone. Tonight marks Stefano Secco’s Ravinia Festival debut.


Tenor Hak Soo Kim graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in German and wrote his thesis on German post-unification literature at Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany. While at Northwestern, he sang Fenton in Verdi’s Falstaff and Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. He is currently in his second year of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program at L.A. Opera, where he will sing the roles of Almaviva in student matinee performances of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and a Youth in the American debut of Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten. In his debut season at L.A. Opera, Kim sang the roles of Remendado in Bizet’s Carmen, First Priest in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Gastone in Verdi’s La traviata. As a member of Opera Colorado’s Outreach Ensemble, he performed the roles of Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Don Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Alberto in Rodriguez’s La Curandera. Recently he appeared in apprentice performances at Santa Fe Opera as Matteo in R. Strauss’s Arabella and Lysander in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a concert artist Kim was the tenor soloist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces with Monmouth Civic Chorus. In the 2008 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he was the second-place winner of the Rocky Mountain Region. He is a student of Julian Kwok. Tonight Hak Soo Kim makes his Ravinia Festival debut.

VALERIE VINZANT, Countess Ceprano

Spring, TX, native soprano Valerie Vinzant earned her bachelor of music degree from Southern Methodist University. As a master’s student at Indiana University she studied with Carol Vaness and performed the roles of Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and the Sandman in Penhorwood’s Too Many Sopranos. She is currently in her first year of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program at L.A. Opera, and her debut season with that company included performances as Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen, Papagena in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Drossel in Braunfels’s Die Vögel. Recently appearing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Wing On Wing, Vinzant has also appeared with the Dallas Opera Symphony under the baton of Graeme Jenkins and is a frequent soloist with the Bloomington Baroque and Classical Orchestras, performing the works of Telemann, Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Purcell and Mozart.. She will open the 2009-10 season as Giannetta in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, and other assignments with L.A. Opera include Ginevra Scotti in Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten and Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. This past summer she was a member of Santa Fe Opera’s Young Artist program, singing First Bridesmaid in Le nozze di Figaro, and was awarded the Mackay Grant Award. As a member of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, she sang in that company’s production of John Musto’s Volpone as Judge Number One. In 2004 she studied German lieder at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. Winner of the Dallas Opera Guild’s top prize in 2007, Vinzant is a two-time recipient of Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions awards. Tonight marks Valerie Vinzant’s Ravinia Festival debut.


Internationally acclaimed baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and studied in Krasnoyarsk. He won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989. After his Western operatic debut at the Nice Opera in Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dame, his career exploded as he undertook regular engagements at the world’s major opera houses, including the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Teatro alla Scala Milan, Vienna State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Kirov Opera, in addition to appearances at the Salzburg Festival as the Count in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Notable roles include the title roles of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and the Verdi roles of Posa in Don Carlos, Germont pere in La traviata and Francesco in I Masnadieri. Also a celebrated recitalist, Hvorostovsky has appeared at such venues as Wigmore Hall, Queen’s Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Teatro alla Scala, Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, Suntory Hall, the Liceu and the Musikverein. He regularly performs in concert with such top orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Rotterdam Philharmonic. Russian composer Georgi Sviridov wrote a song cycle, St. Petersburg, especially for Hvorostovsky, who often includes this cycle and other music by Sviridov in his recitals. Hvorostovsky’s numerous recordings for Delos Records include a CD of Russian war songs entitled Where Are You My Brothers?; Passione Di Napoli, a collection of Neapolitan songs; a disc of Verdi arias; and a disc of Russian folk songs. This is Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s third season at Ravinia Festival, where he debuted in 1998 and heroically headlined a 2002 concert as a commanding solo artist after a co-billed colleague fell ill.


Elk Grove Village, IL, native bass-baritone Paul Corona graduated in 2006 from Northwestern University with a bachelor of music in vocal performance. His Northwestern credits include Tiger Brown in Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, The King in Orff’s The Wise Woman, Death in Holst’s Savitri and Antonio in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and the summer after graduation he participated in the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Singer Program. A third-year member of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Corona was a 2006 grand finals winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and received a 2007 Sullivan Foundation Award. He has appeared with Chicago Opera Theater as Somarone in Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, Antinoo in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail; been a featured soloist in Haydn’s The Creation and Lord Nelson Mass at the Music Institute of Chicago; and appeared in concert at the Kennedy Center, as well as at Chicago’s Symphony Center. Corona is a former grand-prize winner of the Monastero Bel Canto Competition, first-place winner of the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation competition and recipient of the Lola Fletcher Scholarship from the American Opera Society. Having made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut during the 2007-08 season in Verdi’s La traviata, he has returned there subsequently in Puccini’s La bohéme, R. Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, Verdi’s Falstaff, Massenet’s Manon, Berg’s Lulu, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Lyric’s 2009-10 season will bring him back for roles in Puccini’s Tosca and Verdi’s Ernani. Paul Corona made his Ravinia Festival debut last week in Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel.


Currently studying at Ravinia’s Steans Institute, baritone Jonathan Beyer holds degrees from The Curtis Institute of Music and the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Having appeared with several opera companies, including Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Fort Worth Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, The Chautauqua Institution, Tanglewood Music Center, Accademia Verdiana and Teatro di Verdi, Beyer performs a wide variety of roles, including Marcello in Puccini’s La bohéme, Germont in Verdi’s La traviata, Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Belcore in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore and Richard Nixon in Adams’s Nixon in China. He has also appeared with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Lorin Maazel’s Châteauville Foundation, Chatam Baroque, Baton Rouge Symphony, Vermont Symphony, Erie Philharmonic and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. An avid recitalist, Beyer has given recitals through the Vocal Arts Society, Marilyn Horne Foundation, Chicago Cultural Center, Judith Raskin Foundation, Bretlesmann Foundation, Over the Rainbow Foundation and the Marian Anderson Foundation. He was a national finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition and was the first-place winner of the Marian Anderson Prize for Emerging Classical Artists. He has also won the Irma M. Cooper Competition, Violetta DuPont Competition, Pittsburgh Concert Society Auditions, American Opera Society Competition, Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Competition and Bel Canto Foundation Competition. Tonight marks Jonathan Beyer’s Ravinia Festival debut.


Over the past two years baritone Jason Stearns has made appearances with the Metropolitan Opera (Barnaba in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda), Lyric Opera of Chicago (Kurwenal in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde), the Savonlinna Festival (title role of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer) and Los Angeles Opera (Biterolf in Wagner’s Tannhäuser and the title role of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, both under James Conlon). In the 2008-09 season Stearns appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as Monterone in Verdi’s Rigoletto. At Lyric Opera of Chicago, in addition to his role and company debut as Kurwenal, he sang matinee performances of Tonio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Next fall Stearns will sing Jack Rance in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West with Den Norske Opera. Other recent notable engagements include the High Priest in Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila at Florida Grand Opera, Wagner’s Lohengrin with the Leipzig Opera, Tonio in Pagliacci with Boston’s Chorus Pro Musica, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca with Summer Opera and the Mill Foreman in Janáĉek’s Jenůfa with L.A. Opera. His European debut was as Count Di Luna in a new production of Verdi’s Il trovatore with Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen in 2006. Stearns has also appeared with Washington National Opera as Nikitisch in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the King in Massenet’s Le Cid, the Herald in Verdi’s Otello and Westmorland in Wolf-Ferrari’s Sly. With the National Symphony in Washington, he recorded the baritone solos in Corigliano’s Of Rage and Remembrance, which won a 1997 Grammy Award. He was the first-prize winner of the first annual Chester Ludgin American Verdi Baritone Competition. Tonight marks Jason Stearns’s Ravinia Festival debut.


An Atlanta native, bass Morris Robinson is a graduate of The Citadel and the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in their production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, he has appeared there as Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the King in Verdi’s Aida and in roles in Nabucco, Wagner’s Tannhäuser and new productions of Berlioz’s Les Troyens and R. Strauss’s Salome. He has also appeared at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Florida Grand Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, Opera Pacific, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis and the Wolf Trap Opera. His many roles include Ramfis in Aida, the Bonze in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Padre Guardiano in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and Ferrando in Verdi’s Il trovatore. Also a prolific concert singer, Robinson has appeared with the National Symphony, Ft. Worth Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Met Chamber Orchestra, New England String Ensemble and at the Mostly Mozart, Tanglewood, Cincinnati May, Verbier and Aspen festivals. In recital he has been presented by Spivey Hall in Atlanta and the Savannah Music Festival. His first album, Going Home, was released on the Decca label. This season Robinson returns to the Met and makes his debut with the L.A. Opera. He also appears in Carnegie Hall as part of Jessye Norman’s Honor Festival and will be presented in recital in Washington, Philadelphia and New York City. Tonight marks Morris Robinson’s second season at Ravinia, where he debuted last year in concert performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (the Commendatore) and The Abduction from the Seraglio (Osmin) and last month was bass soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony conducted by James Conlon.


A rising star of the international opera world, soprano Eglise Gutiérrez made her Carnegie Hall debut as the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem and John Rutter’s Requiem under the baton of the composer in May 2004, after completing her final year at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. While there she appeared in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and as Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, Nannetta in Verdi’s Falstaff and Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Gutiérrez sang the title role of La sonnambula at Carnegie Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York in February 2008, made her Seattle Opera debut as Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani, returned to Detroit in La sonnambula and made her debut at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in Lucia di Lammermoor. During the 2008-09 season she made her debut at Teatro Lirico di Cagliari as Amina in La sonnambula and her Hamburg debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She also appeared in Lucia di Lammermoor in Montreal, Rigoletto in Vancouver, Verdi’s La traviata in Miami, and I Puritani in Athens, and returned as Lucia to the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where she was Artist of the Year in 2008. She also appeared in concert in Prague, Paris, Cannes, Finland and Miami. A three-time recipient of the Gerda Lissner Foundation Grant and recipient of the Singers Development Foundation, Gutiérrez has won numerous top prizes including first prize in the 2004 International Mirjam Helin Competition in Helsinki, the West Palm Beach Opera Competition, the New Jersey State Opera Competition and the Connecticut Opera Competition. Tonight marks Eglise Gutiérrez’s Ravinia Festival debut.


A native of Long Island, NY, mezzo-soprano Katherine Lerner is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and recently completed her first year at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center. During Lyric’s 2008-09 season she portrayed Rosette in Massenet’s Manon, Mutter in Berg’s Lulu and Lola in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. This June she sang the role of Fleta in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanthe with the San Francisco Symphony, and next season she will sing Siebel in Gounod’s Faust at Lyric Opera, as well as cover Cherubino under Joyce DiDonato. In addition Lerner will be the mezzo soloist in Verdi’s Requiem with the Elmhurst Symphony and Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina for Louisville’s Bourbon Baroque. Past engagements include appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra, Music Academy of the West and Opera Theatre of St. Louis, as well as at the Kennedy Center. Tonight Katherine Lerner makes her Ravinia Festival debut.


Viennese mezzo-soprano Natascha Petrinsky graduated as a lawyer in Germany and subsequently moved to Israel, where she studied at Tel Aviv University with Tamar Rachum, later making her debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the New Israeli Opera. Her opera repertoire includes the title role of Bizet’s Carmen (Finnish National Opera Helsinki), Venus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser (La Monnaie Brussels, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and Opéra National de la Lorraine Nancy), Brangäne in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (Opera National de Bordeaux), Waltraute in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (La Fenice), Amneris in Verdi’s Aida (Oper Leipzig), Medea in Cavalli’s Giasone (Spoleto USA), Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (La Scala, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opéra de Lausanne), Jocaste in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (Edinburgh International Festival and Opera North), Varvara in Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová (De Nederlandse Opera and Teatro Real Madrid), the Fox in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (De Nederlandse Opera) and Clementia in Hindemith’s Sancta Susana (La Scala). Petrinsky has performed in concert with the Netherlands Philharmonic, Israeli Philharmonic, Bergen Philharmonic, Netherlands Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony, London Symphony, Rai Orchestra Turin, NHK Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Dresden and Bamberger Symphoniker. Recordings include Obsessions, Wagner and Strauss Scenes with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Bizet’s Carmen with the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra, R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos with the Teatro San Carlos Orchestra and Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Tonight Natascha Petrinsky makes her Ravinia Festival debut.


Each season the 140-voice Apollo Chorus of Chicago, under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Stephen Alltop, performs music old and new, winning praise for its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah presented at Orchestra Hall and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park. Founded in 1872 after the Great Chicago Fire, the Apollo Chorus began its annual performances of Messiah in 1879. In the year 2000, under the direction of Alltop, Apollo began performing the complete version of this magnificent work. A recording of Handel’s complete Messiah with the Apollo Chorus and Orchestra was issued on the Clarion label in 2006. As Alltop says, “While our history is long and rich, we strive to bring out new discoveries and feelings in each performance.” Beyond Messiah the Apollo Chorus performs a wide range of masterworks for chorus and orchestra. Under Alltop’s skilled and passionate direction, the chorus has performed Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, Brahms’s A German Requiem, Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor and Te Deum, Handel’s Solomon, Durufle’s Requiem, Haydn’s The Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  In the past two seasons Apollo has performed Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts on the Wheaton College Artist Series and appeared with the Chicago Sinfonietta. In March 2009 at the Harris Theater, Apollo presented Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana. This is the Apollo Chorus of Chicago’s seventh season at Ravinia Festival, where it first performed in 2002.

Tenor 1

Nicholas Conner 
Jarrin Davis
Kevin Hurtubise 
Jaffa Kintigh
Nicholas Krupp
Mars Longden
Rich Ryan
John Stumpff

Tenor 2

John Cooper
John Darrow
Robert Frenier
Tim Holbrook
Karl Kimpo
Mitchell Laks
Nicholas Liebman
Bill Lockard
Ron McPheron
Matt Posthuma
James Rizza
Peter Storms
David Wojtowicz 
Neal Woodruff

Bass 1
John Bratincevic
David Beer
Keith Goodwin
Jeff Bell
Patrick Buzby
Patrick Ghielmetti
Winslow Hancock
Gary Hendrickson
David W Hunt
Joe Idaszak
Brian Jungels
Patrick Kelly
Graham Meyer
Tim Mikolay
Daniel Miller
Scott Paine
John Saran 
Paul Shadrake
Kent Smith

Bass 2

Bob Blase
Christopher Bart
Chuck Finklestein
Joshua Jones
Volker Kleinschmidt
Arthur Moswin
John Summerhays
Jason Williams



STEPHEN ALLTOP, Music Director

Stephen Alltop has built a career based on excellence in several disciplines, conducting both orchestral and choral ensembles and performing as a keyboard artist. At home with choral works from Monteverdi to Orff and orchestral repertoire from Bach to Mahler, Alltop became music director and conductor of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago in 1997. He has led the chorus in such masterworks as Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Haydn’s The Creation and has guided Apollo’s activities to include appearances at Ravinia Festival and Peninsula Music Festival. Alltop has expanded Apollo’s repertoire in both early and contemporary music, from works of the Mexican Baroque period to compositions of Eric Whitacre. He also serves as music director of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Peninsula Music Festival. He has been a member of the conducting faculty of Northwestern University since 1992 and has guest-conducted numerous orchestras and choruses across the United States. He has led opera and orchestral concerts with a number of Italian orchestras, including I Soloisti di Perugia, Fondazione Arturo Toscanini in Bologna, Teatro Reggio Orchestra of Parma, Mozart Festival of Roverto, Orchestra Sinfonica of Bari, Teatro Piccinni of Bari, and the Festival Duni in Matera. In 2007 he made his Carnegie Hall debut conducting music of Eric Whitacre. As a harpsichordist and organist Alltop has performed with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Joffrey Ballet, Minnesota Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Omaha Symphony. In 2007 he appeared at Ravinia as organ soloist in Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

Program Notes

GIUSEPPE VERDI (1813-1901)


Following the miserable failure of his opera Stiffelio (later overhauled as Aroldo), Verdi cozied himself at his villa Sant’Agata to read plays in search of a suitable operatic subject for a commission from the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Working through Victor Hugo’s oeuvre, Verdi encountered the play Le roi s’amuse (1832), a scathing portrayal of the morally devoid King François I.

The lecherous François built a dubious reputation throughout France for his amorous—not political or military—victories. Completely democratic in his passions, François debauched women of all classes. Triboulet, the deformed court jester, gleefully fostered the King’s escapades. For his role in one incident, Triboulet received a curse.

In the preface to his play, Hugo wrote: “Its real theme is the curse of M. de Saint-Vallier . . . of course the old man’s curse is going to hit Triboulet through his one and only cherished possession—his daughter. The very king whose sexual excesses he has been encouraging will ravish his own child . . . He plans to avenge his daughter by killing the king, but it is his daughter he kills.” Hugo’s scandalous depiction of royalty was abruptly halted by censors after one performance.

Two decades later the scenario captivated Verdi. Writing to librettist Francesco Maria Piave, he compared Hugo’s drama to the great tragedies of his favorite playwright: “Oh, Le roi s’amuse is the greatest subject and perhaps the greatest drama of modern times. Triboulet is a creation worthy of Shakespeare! It is a subject which cannot fail.”

Based on dramatic considerations alone, Verdi has proven correct. However, political overtones continued to plague the story even in Italy during the 1850s. Austrian censors, who monitored Venetian artistic life, initially objected to the uncomplimentary role of the King in La maledizione (“The Curse,” Verdi’s original title for the opera).

Production plans were placed on hold until minor changes were made to the characters. The King became an unnamed, despotic Duke of Mantua (the ducal Gonzaga family would have come to the mind of most Italians). M. de Saint-Vallier was renamed Monterone. Triboulet assumed a new identity in the tragicomic Rigoletto, a name perhaps loosely derived from rigore, which colloquially means “penalty” or “punishment.” The buffoon’s daughter is transformed from Blanche to Gilda. (The defiled innocent in 19th-century French theater, as personified by Blanche/Gilda, originated in the Gretchen/Marguerite character of Faust fame.)

Acts I, Scene I. In a salon in his palace, the Duke of Mantua tells one of his courtiers that he has encountered an enchanting, but mysterious, woman at weekly Mass and proposes her as a future conquest. For the moment, amidst the revelry going on around him, the Duke directs his licentious desires toward Countess Ceprano, whose husband powerlessly observes the seduction. The hunchbacked jester, Rigoletto, enters the room and fires sharp-tongued taunts at the meek Ceprano. The old Count Monterone storms in, angrily claiming the Duke has violated his daughter. Rigoletto continues his mockery after Monterone is arrested by the soldiers. The Count’s parting words strike terror in Rigoletto: “You who laugh at a father’s pain, a curse be on you!”

Act I, Scene II. On the street near his home, Sparafucile, an assassin, offers his services to Rigoletto. Somewhat confused by the proposal, Rigoletto continues home, where his adoring daughter, Gilda, greets him with open arms. Rigoletto has confined Gilda to the house—allowing her only to go to church on Sundays—so that no harm may befall her. Alas, at church she has caught the eye of a poor student—who is actually the Duke in disguise. In one of the opera’s most famous arias, Gilda rhapsodizes on her “student” suitor and his “dear name” (“Caro nome”): Gaulthier Maldé.

Thinking Gilda to be the clown’s mistress, a group of courtiers arrive and trick a blindfolded Rigoletto into helping with her abduction. After Gilda is carried off, Rigoletto realizes his error and recalls Monterone’s curse.

Act II. Gilda—whom the courtiers still assume is Rigoletto’s mistress—is brought to the Duke, who takes her to a private chamber to seduce her. Rigoletto arrives, searching for her. When he realizes that she is with the Duke, Rigoletto reveals the truth that Gilda is his beloved daughter. The disheveled girl stumbles out of the room into her father’s arms and confesses everything. As Rigoletto sees Monterone being led by guards to prison, he tells the Count that he will avenge them both.

Act III. Rigoletto brings his daughter, who inexplicably still loves the Duke, to Sparafucile’s tavern in order to show her the Duke’s true, vile character. Peering into the inn through a crack in the wall, Gilda sees the Duke, dressed as a common soldier, enter as he sings a paean to the inconstancy of women (“La donna è mobile”), another of the opera’s most celebrated melodies. (Verdi was well aware that he had composed another hit. To guard against the premature circulation of his tune, Verdi withheld the score from the primo tenore until the night before the premiere. Even then, he forbade all cast members from humming the melody in public until after the first performance.) The horrified Gilda witnesses the Duke’s conquest of Maddalena, Sparafucile’s charming sister and conspirator (“Un dì, se ben rammentomi”). The splendid Quartetto (“Bella figlia dell’amore”) sharpens the four-tiered conflict of emotion: the drunken, lecherous Duke; the teasing, seductive Maddalena; a distraught Gilda; and Rigoletto, bent on revenge.

A thunderstorm approaches. Rigoletto sends Gilda home, ordering her to dress as a man and flee on horseback to Verona. Remembering his earlier proposition, Rigoletto approaches Sparafucile to hire him to assassinate the Duke. Rigoletto agrees to return at midnight to pick up the body and dispose of it.  Maddalena laments the impending death of this handsome man (“Povero giovin! . . . grazioso tanto!”). 

Gilda returns to the tavern in her manly garb. Eavesdropping through the cracked wall, she learns of the plot to kill the Duke. Thunder strikes, and ominous winds whistle a haunting chromatic line. After Maddalena makes a final plea for her young Apollo (“Somiglia un Apollo quel giovine”), Sparafucile offers a compromise: they agree to kill the next person who walks in from the storm. The bell tolls half past eleven. Seizing the opportunity to save her unworthy lover, Gilda knocks on the door and enters to meet her fate at the hands of Sparafucile.

Rigoletto arrives, as the town clock strikes midnight, to reap his long-anticipated revenge (“Della vendetta alfin giunge l’istante”). Sparafucile hands over the loaded sack and urges Rigoletto to quickly dump it in the river, but the jester stops to gloat (“Egli è là!morto!”). As he pauses, Rigoletto is horrified to hear the Duke’s voice (“La donna è mobile”) from a distance. Frantically he open the bundle and discovers his only child, Gilda, mortally wounded.

Gilda asks her father’s forgiveness: she loved the Duke enough to die for him (“V’ho ingannato”). Now she will join her departed mother in heaven. Rigoletto implores her not to die (“Lassùin cielo, vincina alla madre”/”Non morire”), but he is too late. Gilda is gone. Rigoletto remembers Count Monterone’s angry curse (“Ah! La maledizione!”) and, in a final cry of despair, throws himself on the limp body of his daughter.

—Program notes © Todd E. Sullivan 2009