Synopsis of Verdi's Opera 'Rigoletto'

Learn the story of Verdi's dramatic opera

A performance of "Rigoletto" full color photograph.

Carlo Raso/Flickr/CC BY 1.0

"Rigoletto" was composed by Giuseppe Verdi and premiered March 11, 1851, in La Fenice, Venice.

Characters of 'Rigoletto'

  • Rigoletto, the Duke's jester (baritone)
  • Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter (soprano)
  • The Duke (tenor)
  • Sparafucile, an assassin (bass)
  • Maddalena, assassin's sister (mezzo-soprano)
  • Count Ceprano (bass)
  • Countess Ceprano, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
  • Count Monterone (baritone)

'Rigoletto' Famous Arias


"Rigoletto" takes place in northern Italy during the 16th century in the town of Mantua.

Act 1

Inside a room within the Duke's palace, the Duke is hosting a ball, eying and taking delight in the many beautiful women in attendance. After spotting an exceptionally beautiful girl, one he has never known, he makes it his mission to seduce her. He also seeks companionship with Countess Ceprano, even though she is married. Rigoletto, the Duke's jester and right-hand man, begins to mock and make fun of the men at the ball. He tells the Duke to either imprison or kill them, allowing the Duke the freedom of being with whomever he pleases.

Marullo informs the noblemen that Rigoletto has a lover. The noblemen cannot believe that Rigoletto could have a lover, so they turn the table and begin mocking him and devising a plan against him. Count Monterone, an elderly man, interrupts by accusing the Duke of seducing his daughter. The sharp-tongued Rigoletto begins to ridicule him before the Duke orders his arrest. As Count Monterone is escorted out of the ball, he curses both the Duke and Rigoletto.

Shaken by the words of Count Monterone, Rigoletto is upset as he makes his way home. He is greeted by an assassin named Sparafucile, and the two men converse. Rigoletto says his words are as sharp as swords and refuses Sparafucile's assistance. When Rigoletto gets home, he is warmly welcomed by his daughter, Gilda. Rigoletto has made her existence secret, even from the Duke. She only leaves the house to go to church and doesn't know what her father does or even his name.

After Rigoletto leaves, Gilda describes a young man she saw in the church to her nurse, Giovanna, and tells her she has fallen for him. She confesses her guilt for not telling her father. Gilda tells Giovanna that she would love the boy even more if here were a poor student. Outside of the house, the Duke overhears the ladies' conversation. He finds a way to separate the two women before making his entrance. The Duke enters the house and startles her. He tells her he is a poor student named Gualtier Maldè and confesses his love to her. Gilda is overjoyed, but quickly sends him away at the sound of approaching footsteps. The Duke rushes out of the house and Gilda retires to her room.

Outside of their garden, instead of Rigoletto returning home, it is the noblemen from the ball. Suspecting the young girl inside to be Rigoletto's lover, they craft a plan to abduct her. The men trick Rigoletto into helping them by telling him that they are abducting Countess Ceprano. Rigoletto excitedly offers his help. They blindfold him and lead him back to his own house. As he holds the ladder, still blindfolded, the men break into Rigoletto's home and kidnap his daughter. As Gilda screams, Rigoletto tears off his blindfold and runs into the house. Finding only her scarf, he remembers Count Monterone's curse.

Act 2

Inside the palace, the Duke has learned that Gilda has been kidnapped. However, his fears subside when the men who stole her arrive in the palace with Gilda in hand. He orders the men to lock her in an adjacent room before making his way there. Rigoletto arrives not long after, happily singing as an attempt to disguise his anguish. The noblemen begin tormenting, laughing, and mocking him. Finally, Rigoletto breaks down and confesses that Gilda is his daughter. The men do not believe him and taunt him for being completely mad. Gilda rushes in to her father's aid and the noblemen finally disperse. She tells Rigoletto of the blessed events that have taken place, and he swears vengeance against the Duke. Gilda, however, pleads for the Duke.

Act 3

Rigoletto and Gilda travel to the outskirts of town to pay a visit to the assassin, Sparafucile. Before entering the run-down inn, Rigoletto and Gilda overhear the Duke inside flirting with Sprafucile's sister, Maddalena, while singing the famous aria "La donna e mobile" ("All women are fickle"). Rigoletto instructs Gilda to disguise herself in men's clothing and escape to Verona. When she complies, he tells her he will not be far behind. Gilda changes into her disguise and sets out to Verona.

Rigoletto enters the inn and makes a deal with Sparafucile to kill the Duke. During their meeting, a violent storm rolls in and Rigoletto stays there for the night. Gilda returns to the assassin's inn, unable to travel. She hears Maddalena's pleas to spare the Duke's life. Sparafucile agrees to spare his life and will kill the next man to walk through the door in order to dupe Rigoletto.

Even though the Duke has proven to be unfaithful, Gilda still loves him. Gilda is resolved to sacrifice her life for his, and walks through the door. She is stabbed immediately. Sparafucile wraps the lifeless body in a bag and gives it to Rigoletto. Rigoletto hands over his payment and happily carries the bag down to the river to dispose of the body. As he approaches the water, he hears the voice of the Duke in the distance. Rigoletto opens the bag and is horrified at the sight. Gilda, with one last breath of life, revives. She tells her father that she gladly dies for her beloved and asks for his forgiveness. Sadly, she passes away in his arms. Once again, Rigoletto remembers Count Monterone's curse.