State of Mind: A Close Look at Rigoletto’s “Parisiamo” in Act I
Texts and translations for the following tracks can be found here.
After the extended first scene of Act I, Rigoletto—on his way to his home and haven—moves almost to the bottom of the city’s morality, talking with the hitman Sparafucile. He then begins a remarkable musical soliloquy, “Parisiamo”—“we are the same”—comparing his work as a comedian to that of the hitman. It’s worth experiencing this entire stream of consciousness (Track 30) before listening closely to its parts.
A detailed listening guide follows. Feel free to choose selections thatcorrespond with your students’ interests.
Track 31: Before analyzing “Parisiamo,” it may help to acquaint students with Verdi’s “curse theme,” which serves as the foundation of the opera’s prelude. A dotted rhythm over a distinct sequence of chords serves as the foundation of the Rigoletto prelude. It recurs several times, in varying harmonies and pitches, followed by more variations and repetitions. (It is later heard again at Monterone’s entrance.)
Track 32: Returning to “Parisiamo,” Rigoletto begins by identifying similarities between Sparafucile’s physical and his own “psychological” assassinations when making fun of people as a comedian. As soon as he’s done, strings sound two ascending and two descending five-note figures.
Track 33: Rigoletto remembers Monterone’s curse, to an exact repetition of the music heard in the first two bars of the prelude. Does he sound offended? Fearful?
Track 34: Rigoletto expresses his anger against “uomini” (“men”) and “natura”(“nature”), representing his destiny as a comedian and his physical deformity, respectively.
Track 35: He feels trapped by the demands of laughter…
Track 36: …but worse, by his inability to cry. Tears matter to Rigoletto: in Track 20, he asks Gilda why she’s crying, even though he knows (she has just come from the Duke’s chambers). In Track 27, his parental care expresses itself as “Cry, my little one, cry.” On the other hand, in Act III, having demonstrated the Duke’s perfidy, he counsels Gilda that “crying doesn't help” (Track 59).
Track 37: Tears matter to Gilda too: while Maddalena sings about laughing in the Act III quartet (see the Musical Highlight Multiple Perspectives), it’s her unexpected crying, later in the act, that prompts Gilda to sacrifice herself to save the Duke (“Piange tal donna!”—“That woman is crying!”). Students may be interested in discussing Piave’s decision to repeatedly mention tears and perspectives on crying in the libretto.
Track 38: A pause follows Track 36. Something else has crossed Rigoletto’s mind: his boss, the Duke, who is recalled in a mix of envy and anger—the force that condemns Rigoletto to joking and laughing.
Track 39: It isn’t the Duke’s demands that demean Rigoletto. His damnation is his need to comply.
Track 40: Worse than serving the Duke, Rigoletto must suffer the jeers of his boss’s entourage. Note that here, as he talks to himself, Verdi and Piave maintain his character with more than a touch of dark irony: “How much joy I find in stinging you!”
Track 41: Rigoletto blames himself and the Duke for his sorrows…
Track 42: …when all at once an entirely different thought arises. A single, gentle note, played by a solo flute, washes across Rigoletto’s sorrow, followed by a snatch of melody, as he envisions another Rigoletto—the better man he thinks he is at home.
Track 43: But respite is immediately supplanted by another thought of Monterone’s curse, accompanied by its musical theme.
Track 44: Rigoletto wonders whether this obsession might be an omen.
Track 45: Rigoletto finally pulls himself back to sanity, writes off his worries off as madness and enters his home. The bright melody heard in Track 1 enters, immediately preceding his reunion with Gilda.
Over the course of this monologue, Rigoletto moves through an astonishing range of emotions, as a variety of thoughts and half-thoughts crosses his mind. He is bitter about himself and his life, although he prefers to believe he is different—a betterman living in a better world—when he’s at home. This belief exacerbates the tragedy about to unfold. The truth is that there will be no peace for Rigoletto.