What lies beneath Rigoletto's nature? Human misery and weakness. That's why, just like every masterpiece, it is topical and tells our story. Is Rigoletto a good, affectionate father or a selfish monster full of resentment for the world, who keeps his daughter as a prisoner? And is the Duke really worse than the people surrounding him? Or is he just more honest? Lately we've seen this opera set among Chicago's gangsters (Jonathan Miller) or in a dark and violent Renaissance, where cruelty and sex are called by their real name, with no fake facade (David McVicar). It is said that when Verdi was asked if there was a page of his music he loved more than others, he answered in dialect, "My hunchback's quartet", or to say "Beautiful daughter of love". Being such a genius, Verdi knew well that Rigoletto represented a milestone among his works. Every time we listen to it today, the feeling is intact. Those characters on the scene are authentic and real. And, maybe, they even resemble us.
During a party at his palace, the Duke of Mantova confesses to his friend Matteo Borsa his intention to end the relationship he's been having for some months. He explains his theory which says women are in fact all the same. During the ball the Duke courts the beautiful Contess of Ceprano. Rigoletto, the Duke's hunchbacked court jester, doesn't hesitate to make the guests noticing the Duke's beahviour. He mocks him for his life of pleasures and suggests him to get the Count of Ceprano arrested to be able to court his wife with no opposition. The jester's disrespectful irony offends the guests but Rigoletto thinks he's untouchable because of the Duke's protection. The Count of Monterone bursts into the room, he's furious because the Duke has seduced his daughter. Rigoletto mocks him and the Count curses him and the Duke, who meanwhile has ordered to arrest the Count. Later that day, Rigoletto starts fearing the consequences of the curse and meets the assassin Sparafucile who offers him to kill anyone for money. Rigoletto refuses his services and meets Gilda, whom everyone think to be his lover while she is in fact his daughter. The jester has confined her at home. Gilda can only go out to church, watched over by the trustful Giovanna. But Rigoletto and the daughter don't know that the Duke has listened to everything they said and when Rigoletto walks away, he approaches Gilda and confesses his love for her. In the meantime, the courtiers want to kidnap Gilda believing her to be the jester's lover and it will be the jester himself, unaware, to help them out, before understanding everything.
In the Duke's palace, the courtiers have locked Gilda in a room and told the Duke their plan. The Duke, worried, bursts into Gilda's room. When Rigoletto finds out, he runs to the room but is stopped by the courtiers. Gilda comes out and runs to the father, confessing him her love for the Duke whom she believed to be a student. Now she has to face shame. When the Count of Monterone is walked to the prison, Rigoletto shouts at him his desire for revenge for the daughter's shame.
A month later, Rigoletto and Gilda are in Sparafucile's house where he lives with his sister Maddalena. They have a plan to attract the Duke there, using Maddalena as bait. In fact, the Duke arrives and courts her. Rigoletto orders to the daughter to wear male clothes and leave for Verona where he will be reaching her soon. Sparafucile will kill the Duke for twenty scudi and will hand Rigoletto the body in a bag. When the Duke goes to rest, Maddalena, now charmed by her courter, begs the brother not to kill him. Sparafucile decides to please the sister and that he will kill the first person who will knock on their door in the Duke's place. A storm approaches and Gilda, dressed with male clothes has listened to the assassin's plan. Still in love with the Duke, she decides to sacrifice her own life for the lovers' sake and knocks on the door. When Rigoletto is about to throw the bag in the water, he hears the Duke's voice in the distance and opens the bag to find his daughter. Gilda, with a last breath, asks the father for forgiveness. The desperate Rigoletto faints on the floor next to his dead daughter.