Together with La traviata and Il trovatore, Rigoletto (1851) is an opera that made Verdi famous worldwide. Its theme, taken over from Victor Hugo’s drama Le roi s’amuse, is the tragic story of the court jester Rigoletto and his beautiful daughter Gilda, who falls victim to her father’s promiscuous master, the Duke of Mantua. The genesis of the work, written for the Teatro La Fenice, was quite dramatic in itself. The Venice police intervened and subjected the original version to censorship, claiming that the theme was “tastelessly immoral” and “offensive to His Royal Majesty”.
The librettist Francesco Maria Piave carried out acceptable revisions, replaced the character of the King with the Duke, omitted the hunchback personage and the motif of curse, and changed the working title La maledizione to Il duco di Vendôme. Yet Verdi insisted that the main story line be preserved and that Triboletto (as the hunchback was originally called) remain an outcast living on the edge of society. Ultimately, a compromise was reached and the opera was given a new title, the one we know it by today – Rigoletto. The world premiere on 11 March 1851 in Venice was a triumph and the Duke’s cynical song “La donna e mobile” (The woman is fickle) was sung by people in the streets the very next day. Verdi’s splendid melodies and the masterful depiction of the lead characters still enchant opera-lovers around the world.