Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXI: Opera Characters – $1600

Jeopardy! category: OPERA CHARACTERS (13-06-2014)

$1600 clue: This court jester arranges to have the Duke of Mantua killed, but his own daughter Gilda switches places & is killed instead

Correct response

The gist: This clue comes with a late-category curtain call for Mr. Giuseppe Verdi. Rigoletto is the hunch-backed title character (notice a trend?) of Verdi’s 1851 opera, written for a libretto based on a Victor Hugo novel. The story concerns a curse placed on the hunch-backed Rigoletto and his patron, the Duke of Mantua, after the Duke dishonourably seduced a woman, with Rigoletto egging him on. The play opens at a ball, with the Duke bragging about his Casanova ways and poking fun at the more stable royalty present – Count Monterone takes offense, his daughter having been one of the Duke’s conquests. Monterone curses the Duke and his jester before storming off, terrifying the latter.

Rigoletto goes home and runs into the assassin Sparafucile, who offers his skills to Rigoletto but is turned down. Entering his house, Rigoletto greets his beautiful daughter Gilda whom he keeps hidden inside, for fear of her meeting the same fate at the hands of the Duke as he has watched happen so many times before – she doesn’t even know her father’s real name, let alone his job. She is allowed to attend church, however, and there she meets the Duke – but it unaware of his identity. He enters their home and pretends to be a poor student, knowing that to be the way to Gilda’s heart, and gives her a false name. Meanwhile, jealous noblemen gather to kidnap Gilda (who they think is the jester’s mistress), and Rigoletto unknowingly aids them – the curse manifesting itself.

The noblemen tell the Duke that they’ve captured Rigoletto’s mistress, who figures out that it was in fact Gilda and rushes to help her. With the Duke gone, they torment Rigoletto, who tries to trick them into taking him to his daughter, but fails. He then confesses his true relationship with their captive, and the noblemen leave, thinking he’s lost it. Gilda enters and tells her father what’s happened to her, and Rigoletto vows revenge against the Duke – Gilda, still unaware of her lover’s identity, agrees.

In the final act, Rigoletto and Gilda go to the assassin Sparafucile’s house, where Rigoletto hears the Duke trying to seduce Sparafucile’s sister – incorrigible! Gilda, now knowing the Duke’s true nature, still loves him, and goes to Sparafucile dressed as man to try to save her love. Sparafucile agrees if someone will volunteer to take his place so he can still receive his payment, and Gilda does so. Rigoletto returns and takes the corpse that he believes to be the Duke to the river in a sack – but just before throwing it in, he hears the Duke singing in the distance and opens the sack to see his daughter mortally wounded. With her last ounce of strength she declares that she is happy to die for her love, and then does so in her father’s arms. The opera ends with Rigoletto lamenting the curse.

Poster from the world premiere of Rigoletto at La Fenice in Venice, Italy

The clue: Knowing that Rigoletto is a jester is enough to get this one, but the clue amounts to a very short summary of the entire story, so there’s plenty to latch onto if you know anything about the opera.

In Jeopardy!: Rigoletto‘s in a healthy 33 clues in the J!Archive, but also seems to be a go-to answer for many contestants when Verdi is mentioned. Although the composer is mentioned in 18 of the clues, it’s probably better not to guess – he wrote a lot of them! Other common mentions are the title character’s jester job (nine clues) and his boss the Duke (another nine). His daughter Gilda appears five times. Another common mention is “La donna e mobile” (in English, “The woman is fickle”), the Duke’s famous aria that he sings in Sparafucile’s house and reprises while Gilda is dying in her father’s arms. There you go – now you should know, at least, when to not guess Rigoletto.

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