Rigoletto at Miller Outdoor Theatre
May 15 - May 16, 2009
Houston Grand Opera presents Rigoletto, Verdi's distinguished tragedy where a bitter court jester pits himself against his master, the Duke of Mantua, in a hopeless effort to protect his daughter, Gilda's, fortune. Two performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) was born to an innkeeper in Roncole, Italy. His musical talent was recognized and nurtured by Antonio Barrezi, a prosperous merchant. Verdi married Barrezi’s daughter Marguerite in 1836, only to lose her and their two small children in 1840 to illness. His first success came in 1842 with Nabucco; it was adopted by the patriotic movement that eventually freed Italy from Austrian domination, and Verdi became a national hero overnight. During this time he met the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, who would become his second wife. Other important Verdi works include Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Don Carlo, Aïda, Otello and Falstaff.
Rigoletto, Verdi’s fifteenth opera, was an instant success upon its premiere at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851, and is among the most enduring operas in the repertoire. Its title role is regarded as one of the most demanding (both musically and dramatically) ever written for a baritone.
Rigoletto is based on Le Roi s’amuse, a play by Victor Hugo in which the major characters are historical: Francis I of France, a contemporary of Henry VIII, and his jester Triboulet. The opera, originally titled La maledizione (The Curse), was faithful to the play’s basic story line, and the Italian censors found the libretto so shocking that they demanded important changes. (The original play had shocked the French as well, and had to be withdrawn after only two performances.) The censors were particularly concerned with the story’s unflattering portrait of King Francis I, which they feared would provoke subversive behavior. To fictionalize the story, the locale was moved to Italy, the King was reduced in rank to a duke, and the jester’s name was changed to Rigoletto (from the French rigoler, “to laugh”).
Pictured: detail of a photo by Houston Grand Opera.