Five facts about Rigoletto

12 June 2024

This Autumn, Welsh National Opera will be bringing you a brand-new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto by director Adele Thomas, who was born and raised in Port Talbot, South Wales. This isn’t the first time WNO has performed Rigoletto and we’re excited to bring it back to the stage, so, ahead of its return, we’ve uncovered some interesting facts about Verdi’s masterpiece.

A popularity contest

It’s no surprise that WNO have performed Rigoletto numerous times over the years; according to statistics on worldwide opera performances, found on Operabase, Rigoletto, along with two of Verdi’s other operas, La traviata and Aida are constantly among the most performed operas. It’s estimated that each title is performed between 300 and 400 times worldwide every year.

Getting the right title

Verdi’s opera is based on a play by Victor Hugo and the composer originally hoped to use the same name as the play, Le roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself). When this title was rejected, he suggested La Maledizione (The Curse), before finally deciding to name the opera after its quasi-protagonist.

What’s in a name?

The Duke’s jester and title character, Rigoletto’s name is adapted from the French word ‘rigoler’, which means ‘to laugh’. In Victor Hugo’s original play, the jester was called Triboulet, which was the real name of King Francis I’s actual jester, however the character’s name had to be changed to get approval; the libretto had to undergo substantial revisions to satisfy the censors, who deemed the opera too threatening.

You’ve heard it before

Act III of Rigoletto features one of the best-known melodies in all of opera, La donna è mobile. The tune has been used in countless advertisements, including those for Italian cuisine, body spray, scrubbing bubbles, and chocolate chip cookies, as well as two different Super Bowl adverts for Doritos. It has also been featured in movies, television, and videogame soundtracks, such as The Sopranos, Rocky Balboa and Grand Theft Auto.

The characters and their music

The grim palace of the Duke is contrasted by the tranquillity and isolation of Gilda, Rigoletto’s beloved daughter. Gilda gets some of the most divine music, particularly in the Act I aria Caro nome, which translates as Dear Name in English. Verdi also cleverly gives the despicable Duke some devilishly charming music, such as La donna è mobile. Rigoletto's music is punchier and more declamatory, to reflect the uneasy mix of both worlds; that of his daughter and that of the Duke.

To see this new production of one of the world's favourite operas, and uncover the secrets of the court for yourself, then join us as we visit venues across Wales and England this Autumn.