World premiere: Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 1851. Met premiere: November 16, 1883. A dramatic journey of undeniable force, Rigoletto was immensely popular from its premiere and remains fresh and powerful to this day. The story, based on a controversial play by Victor Hugo, tells of an outsider—a hunchbacked jester—who struggles to balance the dueling elements of beauty and evil that exist in his life. Written during the most fertile period of Verdi’s artistic life, the opera resonates with a universality that is frequently called Shakespearean.