Anyone who knows me well (or who reads this blog) will know that I'm something of a Rigoletto geek. Here are a few random musings that I didn't feel I could include in my review of Saturday's Covent Garden performance for fear of excessive length and sheer obscurity - but here they are, for anyone interested in the quirks.

My favourite recording of Rigoletto is the one made with Joan Sutherland in 1961 conducted by Nino Sanzogno (long before her better known recording with Pavarotti). The world has justly mourned Dame Joan's passing last week, but I discovered that another of the stars of that recording died in July this year: the bass Cesare Siepi, who sang Sparafucile. Amongst other things, Siepi was famous for the low F at the end of Sparafucile's duet with Rigoletto: if you type "Cesare Siepi L" into Youtube (a particularily 21st century method of measuring fame) it will give you an option "Cesare Siepi low f". It's a fantastic operatic moment: as the assassin departs from the stage, he leaves the "cil" at the end of his name hanging menacingly in the air with a note that seems to go on forever as Rigoletto sings "va, va, va, va" (go, go, go, go). Last night, Raymond Aceto sang the low F wonderfully: whether or not it was intended as such, I feel it was a fine tribute to Siepi.

The libretto of Rigoletto appears to be undergoing some change. At the beginning of Act III, when the Duke arrives at Sparafucile's inn, he demands two things: Due cose, e tostoUna stanza e del vino Two things, and right awayA room and some wine In Saturday's production - as, for that matter, in the Mantua film earlier this year - the Duke's demands have morphed into Tua sorella e del vino ("your sister, and some wine"). It's spicier, no doubt, but not what Piave actually wrote. I wonder whether the change has found its way into a new copy of the score somewhere, or just grown up as a matter of habit. [DK correction (thanks to the comment on this post from Vanette): it was Verdi's original text before the censors got at him. The words "tua sorella" are crossed out in the manuscript, not in Verdi's handwriting, and the original text found its way back into a critical edition in the 1980s.]

As I've learned more Italian and seen more live opera over the last couple of years, I get to worry about the translations in surtitles. There were many really strange translations on Saturday, but one of them stood out: in an aside to the audience in response to the Duke's demands, Sparafucile comments Oh il bel zerbino. The Italian word zerbino means "doormat": Sparafucile is complaining that he's letting himself be a fine doormat for the Duke to walk all over. The Royal Opera's surtitle translated the sentence as "A fine choice, sir": I have no idea where that one came from.

Strangely, the line seems to be mistranslated in every English rendering of the libretto that I can find, where it's rendered as "what a fine dandy" or "oh the gay blade". The Italian for a dandy or fop is the similar word zerbinótto. Maybe it's a legitimate shortening, but it seems likely to me that it's a simple mistake in an early translation which has been widely propagated.

Can any native Italian speakers (or historians of the libretto) enlighten me?

18th October 2010