Teacher Resources for Rigoletto

Welcome to Lyric Unlimited’s Teachers Resources for Rigoletto. This is your all-access pass to the world of opera and your insider’s guide to Lyric’s incredible performances. Scroll down to access the following resources to help you prepare your students for your trip to Lyric:

It is our sincere hope you enjoy the performance, and we look forward to seeing you and your students at the opera!

Opera Prep Class - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Opera Prep ClassCost: $175 per 45-minute presentation

Request a Lyric teaching artist to visit your classroom and engage your students with the important themes, musical highlights, and production elements of the opera.

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Teacher Guide

Information and activities to help you prepare students for the performance.

Teacher Guide - Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Opera Overview

This GoogleSlides presentation covers essential information your students need to know about the opera. For best results, please view the Opera Overview full screen.

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Musical Highlights

Act 1: Scene 2 “Pari Siamo” (We are the same)
English Translation
Sung by Rigoletto
This aria takes place in the second scene of the opera. Rigoletto is on his way home from work and happens to run into Sparafucile, who offers his services as an assassin. He declines, but notes that they are similar– Sparafucile cuts men down with a knife, Rigoletto cuts men down with his words.

Things to listen for:

Act 1: Scene 2 “Figlia!” “Mio padre!” (Daughter! My father!)
English Translation
Sung by Rigoletto and Gilda

This duet immediately follows “Pari siamo.” In it, we see a different side of Rigoletto. The opera opens with Rigoletto making fun of the crowd at the home of the Duke, which he admits is cruel. Once the door opens to his home, we see a warm and cheerful Rigoletto who loves his daughter and she clearly loves him, too.

Things to listen for:

Act 1: Scene 2 “Gualtier Maldè!...Caro nome”
English Translation
Sung by Gilda

The Duke has disguised himself as a townsperson to get close to Gilda. His fake name is Gualtier Maldè (in English, Walter Maldè). Gilda has never interacted with a man before, other than her father. Gilda has never spent time with a man before, other than her father. She is infatuated. This aria is an expression of her giddy teenage love.

Things to listen for:

Act 3: “La donna e mobile” (Woman is fickle)
English Translation
Sung by the Duke of Mantua

This is probably the most famous aria in all of opera (and no doubt the catchiest). The Duke is not a nice man. This aria highlights his lack of respect for women. He essentially says that women aren’t very smart or reliable. (Lyric disagrees with the Duke’s opinion completely.)

Things to listen for:

Act 3: “Bella figlia dell’amore” (Beautiful daughter of love)
English Translation
Sung by the Duke, Maddalena, Gilda, and Rigoletto

This quartet is another famous opera moment. The Duke and Maddalena are conversing inside the home of Sparafucile. Gilda and Rigoletto are outside watching this conversation through a window. The Duke is using his charms to seduce Maddalena, who is not impressed by his flattery. Gilda is heartbroken that her beloved “Gualtier” has betrayed her. Rigoletto is reassured about his plot for revenge.

Things to listen for:

MacNeil, Grist, Gedda, di Stasio; Theatre dell’Opera, Roma, cond. Molinari-Pradelli. (EMI) 

Music for Rigoletto provided by through generous arrangement with Warner Classics, Official Education and Promotion Music Provider for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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Historical and Cultural Timeline

Learn more about this opera and events in the world at the time it was written.


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Composer and Librettist Biographies

Teacher Resources - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Giuseppe Verdi, composerb. Busseto, Italy, October 9, 1813; d. Milan, January 27, 1901

Verdi’s early life and career fit the mold we have come to expect of the Romantic Era artist. Born to a family of modest means, his musical abilities became apparent early on and were guided and nurtured by a kind patron, Antonio Barezzi (who later became his father-in-law).

Denied admission to the Milan Conservatory, he was forced to study privately. Eventually he would find his way to the Teatro alla Scala, where his first opera, Oberto (1839) was a modest success and his second, Un giorno di regno (1840), a comic opera written shortly after the tragic death of his young wife and two children, was a fiasco. At a low point of his career, he would make another attempt, Nabucco (1842), which was a spectacular success that changed the course of his life.

Verdi’s opera’s of the 1840s are imbued both overtly and covertly with the interests of the Risorgimento—Italian citizens who sought the reunification of Italy. His chorus, “Va pensiero,” from Nabucco would become an anthem for the Risorgimento.

In the coming years, Verdi would run afoul of the censors with operas that questioned the political situation and the church. For example, Rigoletto (1851) required major revisions in order to be staged. Despite the censors, Verdi achieved almost unprecedented international acclaim in the 1850s, especially from three major successes in a row Rigoletto, Il trovatore (1853) and La traviata (1853).

The successes of his 1850s operas allowed Verdi to be very selective about his choice of projects in subsequent decades. He spent most of the remainder of his life going in and out of retirement, writing only when a particular commission interested him. He composed La forza del destino for St. Petersburg in 1862, and a revision 1869. In 1867 he composed Don Carlos, his most ambitious work, for the Paris Opéra. An invitation of the Khedive of Egypt to compose an opera for Cairo led eventually to the hugely successful Aida of 1871.

Verdi would achieve the zenith of his career in collaboration with the young Italian poet and composer Arrigo Boito. Their first major collaboration was the 1881 revision of Verdi’s earlier Simon Boccanegra (1857). Otello, brilliantly distilled from Shakespeare’s play by Boito and set to music of the highest order by Verdi, soon took its place among the greatest Italian lyric tragedies. This triumph was followed by Falstaff (1893), adapted from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. In this final opera Verdi, at age eighty, astonished the world with his warmth, uncanny comic timing, and youthful ebullience. In this final opera, Verdi astonished the world with his warmth, uncanny comic timing, and youthful ebullience.

Throughout his life Verdi remained an intensely private man. His long relationship with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi (she became his second wife in 1859) was especially meaningful to him, but never something he intended as grist for the chattering classes. He was always uneasy in the public role the success of his operas—and their identification with Italian unification—forced upon him. Whatever his discomfort, his importance to Italian cultural life could not be denied, and when he died in 1901, the outpouring of grief and respect was remarkable by any standard. An entire century of Italian music seemed to die with him.

Adapted from a biography by Douglas L. Ipson

Teacher Resources - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Francesco Maria Piave, librettistb. Murano, May 18, 1810; d. Milan, March 5, 1876

Francesco Maria Piave is primarily remembered as Verdi’s preferred librettist for the period encompassing 1844’s Ernani through La forza del destino in 1862. However, the prolific author wrote over 40 librettos for many of the noted composers of the day, including those for Pacini’s Il duca d’Alba, Mercadante’s La schiava saracena, and Griselda by Federico Ricci.

Born in the Murano district of Venice in 1810, Piave was the eldest son of a successful glassmaker. He initially began study for the priesthood, but when a sad reversal of family fortune compelled him to leave seminary, the quick-minded youth soon found work as a proofreader, journalist, and sometime poet. His literary efforts eventually led to a position at the Teatro La Fenice as “resident poet and stage manager” (akin to the dramaturg and stage director of today), a post he also came to hold at Milan’s La Scala.

Piave’s relationship with Verdi is well documented through their extensive correspondence. Some of the letters make difficult reading. On the surface, Verdi appears to browbeat Piave relentlessly, to which the librettist responds like a dog acquiescing to its master. A closer look reveals a lifelong friendship between two men who regarded one another’s abilities with unfailing respect.

Piave’s gentle nature and skill in tactful negotiation with censors and theatrical management was a huge asset to the composer, who was inclined toward a more volatile disposition. Verdi found in him a colleague who, beyond possessing the flexibility required to merge with the composer’s rapidly evolving artistic sensibilities, could be absolutely relied upon in the most difficult of situations.

Both men were also passionate Italian patriots, sharing a deep interest in contemporary politics; a number of letters written in 1848, following the retreat of Radetsky’s Austrian troops from Milan, find Verdi addressing his colleague as “Citizen Piave.” The librettist was also a great favorite of Verdi’s longtime companion and later wife Giuseppina Strepponi, who affectionately dubbed him “Il grazioso”—the Gracious One.

On December 5, 1867, Piave suffered a debilitating stroke while on his way to a rehearsal at La Scala. Verdi and Strepponi influenced Ricordi to publish an album of piano pieces by various composers to be sold for Piave’s benefit. The Verdis also generously contributed to his upkeep, and that of his wife and daughter, for the nine years until his death on March 5, 1876. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale, in Milan.

By Mark Thomas Ketterson

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