A festive ball is taking place at the court of Mantua. The Duke
happily tells the courtier Borsa about his amorous adventure with a
beautiful girl who lives at a house in a remote alley where she is
visited by an unknown man every evening. He has met her only in
church so far, so she does not know who he is. The Duke makes
advances to Countess Ceprano, and her husband is mocked by
Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester. Marullo reveals a sensation to
other courtiers: he has discovered that Rigoletto has a mistress.
All arcs convulsed with laughter. Rigoletto suggests ways in which
the Duke might get rid of the Count in order to seduce his wife.
Ceprano is enraged. Suddenly Monterone storms in, accusing the Duke
of having dishonoured his daughter. When the jester mocks his grief
the old man curses him. Rigoletto is filled with a sense of
Rigoletto remembers Monterone's curse with dark foreboding.
Sparafucile the hired assassin approaches him and offers his
services. Left alone, Rigoletto reflects on the humiliations of his
existence as a cripple and as court buffoon. Only in his love for
his daughter Gilda is he a human being. Gilda comes out of the
house and throws herself into his arms. When she begs him to tell
her about her early life, Rigoletto pours out the sorrow of his
lost Love; his daughter is the only joy remaining to him, He
forbids Gilda ought to leave the house, and orders the housekeeper
Giovanna to guard her. Having bribed Giovanna to admit him, the
Duke - incognito - surprizes Gilda and makes passionate
declarations of love. Gilda is overjoyed. In the darkness Ceprano,
Marullo and the courtiers arrive, intending to abduct Rigoletto's
supposed mistress. Made to believe that it is Countess Ceprano, who
is being abducted, the blindfolded Rigoletto even holds the ladder
for them. As Gilda is dragged away he tears the blindfold from his
eyes, too late. The curse has begun to take effect.
The Duke has discovered to his genuine despair that Gilda has
been abducted. The courtiers triumphantly tell how they seized
Rigoletto's 'mistress' - Gilda. The Duke rushes to her. Rigoletto
appears with feigned indifference. He has to realize that Gilda is
with the Duke. The courtiers prevent him from rushing in. When she
is brought to him, Gilda tearfully confesses her liaison with the
Duke, which has robbed her of her honour. Led past on his way to
prison, Monterone again curses the despairing Rigoletto, who thinks
only of vengeance.
Rigoletto has paid Sparafucile to murder the Dulce. He and Gilda
watch the building from a vantagepoint outside. Gilda recognizes
the Duke flirting with the assassin's sister Maddalena. Taking pity
on the handsome young woman, Maddalena persuades her brother to
kill someone else instead of him. Gilda overhears the plan and
resolves to sacrifice herself for her lover. She knocks at the door
behind which Sparafucile is lurking with a knife ready to slay
whoever enters. The door opens - night and the thunderstorm obscure
everything. The victim is concealed in a sack. The returning
Rigoletto is about to throw it into the river when he hears the
Duke singing his wooing canzone. Rigoletto tears open the sack to
discover his dying daughter. She begs his forgiveness, and dies in
the hope of heavenly bliss. Rigoletto is utterly broken.
Monterone's curse has been fulfilled.