Premiered on March 11, 1851 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy.
Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi.
Libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave.
The amorous Duke of Mantua is having a feast in his palace. He tells one of his courtiers that he has seen a girl at church whom he plans to seduce. The Duke also boasts of his latest conquest, the Countess Ceprano. Her husband is ridiculed by Rigoletto, the hunchbacked court jester. A courtier, in turn, jokes that Rigoletto has a mistress.
Ceprano plots with the courtiers to get even with the jester for his cruel taunts. At that moment, Monterone, a nobleman whose daughter has been seduced by the Duke arrives. He is placed under arrest as Rigoletto ridicules him. As Monterone is led away, he places a curse on the Duke and the jester.
Rigoletto is walking home when he meets Sparafucile, an assassin who offers his services. Rigoletto refuses -- for now. He later laments his fate as the hunchbacked jester who, using the weapon of his words, is not unlike the hit man.
Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, lives in his house. She has been kept closely guarded from the outside world and the lustful eyes of the Duke and his court. Rigoletto orders Giovanna, the servant, to watch over his daughter. The Duke, who has overheard everything, is lurking outside.
As Rigoletto leaves, Gilda comments on her feelings of guilt for having not told her father about the man she sees in church. Giovanna, who has been bribed, allows the Duke into the courtyard. The Duke, disguised as a poor student, declares his love for Gilda.
Giovanna, thinking that she hears Rigoletto returning, urges the Duke to leave. However, Ceprano and the courtiers are the ones who are actually outside. They have come to abduct the girl they believe is Rigoletto's mistress.
Rigoletto is returning to his house. One of the courtiers tells Rigoletto that they are kidnapping the Countess Ceprano from a nearby palace. They blindfold Rigoletto and persuade him to hold the ladder, which they use to abduct Gilda. Rigoletto later discovers the trick.
At the palace, the courtiers rush to tell the Duke about their deeds. The Duke realizes that Rigoletto's supposed mistress is actually his daughter. The courtiers have locked her into a bedchamber, which the Duke greedily enters.
Rigoletto searches the palace for Gilda. It is clear that the Duke is already with Gilda. The courtiers bar Rigoletto from getting to her, even after learning that she is his daughter.
Gilda later appears. In shame and in tears, she tells her father what has happened. Meanwhile, Monterone is dragged past on his way to prison. He despairs of his futile curse on the Duke, but Rigoletto swears that it’s not over yet. Rigoletto will have his revenge.
Rigoletto brings Gilda to the window of Sparafucile's inn to witness the Duke’s exploits. The Duke enters, disguised as a soldier, to see Sparafucile's sister, Maddalena. Gilda is heartbroken. Rigoletto tells Gilda to dress in boy's clothing and go to Verona.
Once Gilda has gone, Rigoletto hires Sparafucile to murder the Duke after which Rigoletto will return for the body. The Duke retires to an upper room. Maddalena, who has fallen in love with the soldier, tries to persuade her brother to spare his life. He refuses and gives her a sack to mend for disposing of the body.
Disobeying her father, Gilda returns to the window at the inn to hear more. Maddalena proposes that her brother kill Rigoletto in order to spare the soldier’s life. Sparafucile rejects this plan as well, but agrees to kill the next person who comes to the inn and deliver the body to Rigoletto.
Gilda chooses to sacrifice her own life to save the man she still loves. She knocks on the door. Maddalena opens it and Sparafucile stabs Gilda in the heart.Rigoletto later returns for the body. As he gloats over it, he hears the Duke singing in the distance. He opens the sack to find his daughter. She begs for forgiveness and dies, fulfilling Monterone’s curse.