In March 1850, the Venetian La Fenice commissioned Verdi to compose an opera seria that would be performed during the Carnival, in 1851. The composer gladly accepted the commission, since the two of his operas - Ernani and Atilla - were already successfully premiered at this renowned theatre. He occupied himself with the choice of topic for quite some time and finally opted for Hugo's Le roi s'amuse, as he found it one of the greatest plays of its time and the creation, worthy of Shakespeare himself. He was particularly allured by Hugo's dramaturgy with sharp, romantic contrasts, turbulent conflicts of passion, zealous love of freedom as well as exciting and dynamic development of action. Although the theatre's direction accepted the suggested theme, it did have its doubts, mainly due to the stormy reactions, caused by Hugo's source material on the occasion of its first staging in Paris, in 1832. Even Verdi was concerned, but the poet Francesco Maria Piave assured him of the opposite and wrote the entire libretto after the composer's draft that was at first entitled as La maledizione (The Curse). Then the Austrian censorship banned the opera's performance under this title due to its alleged immorality and obscenity. However, since the composer had already set a significant part of the play to the music, he could not afford the additional loss of time that would be necessary for the acquisition of a new topic. The obedient and flexible Piave set himself to some remaking, with which, however, the composer did not agree. After a series of complications the senior police officer Martello wisely proposed some alterations, which would comply with the demands of the censorship on the one hand and would not considerably affect the essence of the opera's dramatic concept on the other. Thus the French King was replaced with the unknown Duke of Mantua, the court jester was named Rigoletto and some other characters also obtained new names so that the premiere, held in Venice on 11th March 1851, could see its triumph at last. The first performance was soon followed by its repetitions as on the other Italian stages as well as abroad - among other in Vienna, in 1852 and in Ljubljana, in 1855. The audience in Paris saw it only two years later, since its staging was initially opposed to by Hugo himself, who soon became a zealous fan of this Verdi's masterpiece. And it was indeed with it that the thirty eight years old composer reached his artistic maturity. With its heartbreaking and uniform drama Rigoletto certainly outperforms the other pieces from Verdi's middle creative period. In his collection of works this opera announced a period, in which the composer's works were marked by greater musical consistency and stronger individual character in comparison to any of the operas, composed by his Italian predecessors. Verdi's melodics became even warmer and more distinctive, and although dominated by melodious element, the orchestra that convincingly created the mood and deepened the psychological background, was increasingly obtaining a more important role as well. Detlef Soelter, who has successfully revived on our stage Verdi's Nabucco and also took part in the staging of the Monteverdi's L’Orfeo, produced by the Ljubljana's three artistic academies, came back and directed yet another staging of Verdi's famous operas.
Text: Tatjana Ažman