• Musical Highlights

Multiple Perspectives: A Close Look at the Act III Quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore”

Texts and translations for the below tracks can be found here.

In the final act of Rigoletto, Verdi brings together the four leading characters in a masterful quartet that is an intricate musical depiction of four personalities andtheir overlapping agendas. The Duke begins with a brief solo in which he addresses Maddalena with the words “Bella figlia dell’amore”—“beautiful daughter of love.” His choice of metaphor in the attempt to seduce her reveals as much irony as hisclaim that “La donna è mobile”—“Woman is fickle” (see the Musical Highlight Ironic Hit). In his plea that Maddalena “console” him in his suffering, the Duke uses the same word, “consolare,” that Gilda had applied to Rigoletto’s genuine ministrations at the end of Act II (Track 55).

Maddalena replies to this unctuous “come-on” with a brief, dry rejection (Track 56). Her staccato delivery will become a countermelody as the voices and viewpoints intermingle.

While these two banter inside the club, Gilda and her father are eaves droppingoutside. All that matters to Gilda is the Duke’s declaration of love to Maddalena. Her disillusionment is conveyed in breathless, descending puffs of melody (Track 57).

Verdi and Piave reiterate the contrast between her dismay and Maddalena’s dismissal (Track 58) before Rigoletto leaps in with a pointed reversal of his earlier “consolation”: Instead of  “Cry, my little one, cry” (Track 27), he now counsels “crying doesn’t help” (Track 59).

The Duke, still the scene’s catalyst, emerges from the harmonic pile-up with that feckless “consolar,” heard at the end of Track 60, then recommences his flirtation.

In Track 61, the other three voices again wind around theDuke’s, before, in Track 62, Verdi raises the stakes. 

Gilda emits jets of brief, halting two-note phrases that rise, fall, then rise again. Maddalena, in a musical imitation of laughter, repeatedly fires off a single note against the Duke’s smooth onslaught. Rigoletto fights for control as he reveals his plan to an inattentive Gilda.

Voices climb in Track 63. Gilda seems all but ready to explode.

By the time we reach Track 64, Maddalena’s ridicule cuts the Duke down to size. Even he seems to concur—just as her insistence will soon redirect her brother’s dagger.

As the quartet concludes in Track 65, the Duke’s “Vieni!”—“Come!”—is more plea than seduction.

From here until the opera’s final curtain, he will cease to dominate. He becomes the object, not to mention unwitting beneficiary, of the tangled passions of those he has always viewed as pawns—and of fate.

Each of the four voices in this quartet is exquisitely tuned to its character’s role at this moment in the drama. But the four parts also come to depict a change in those characters’ relationships with one another: the Duke dominates at first but by the end succumbs to Maddalena’s tough-minded critique. Gilda’s part, expressing disillusionment, ends by conveying her inability to even listen to her father’s vengeful plan. She is simply stunned.

Students may enjoy discussing how the viewpoints presented musically at the end of the quartet prefigure characters’ actions during the rest of the opera—particularly Maddalena’s taking charge and directing Sparafucile not to kill the Duke, on the one hand, and the way Gilda almost sleepwalks into harm's way on the other. As if numb to reality, she can’t help but save the deceiver she somehow still loves.

The quartet can be heard without interruption on Track 66.