Rigoletto is the court jester of the Duke of Mantua. The Duke is a handsome fellow exceedingly fond of seducing women. Rigoletto often helps the Duke in his amorous adventures and has no illusions about the Duke’s morals. Rigoletto has hidden his daughter, Gilda, from the court, and she knows nothing about his life as a jester.
Rigoletto mocks another father, Count Monterone, when Monterone’s daughter is seduced and jibes at Count Ceprano when the Count’s wife catches the Duke’s eye. Rigoletto’s barbed comments and participation in the Duke’s escapades have won him many enemies among the Duke’s followers. Monterone curses Rigoletto, to the hunchback’s secret horror. Ceprano plots a more direct revenge. Thinking that Gilda is Rigoletto’s mistress, Ceprano tells the other men of the court about her. Ceprano persuades his followers to kidnap Gilda and take her to the Duke. They even involve Rigoletto in his daughter’s abduction, blindfolding him and tricking him into holding the ladder to Gilda’s window. The nobles carry Gilda off to the Duke.
Appalled by what has happened, Rigoletto goes to the Duke’s house to rescue Gilda, who is seduced by the Duke. The nobles mock Rigoletto for his troubles. After he comforts his daughter, Rigoletto vows vengeance on the Duke. He hires an assassin, Sparafucile, to kill his master and plans to flee the city after the murder with Gilda.
At an inn where she is waiting for her father, Gilda overhears Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister, pleading with Sparafucile to spare the Duke. Sparafucile says that he needs to find another person that he can murder before midnight and deliver to Rigoletto. Gilda decides to sacrifice herself for her lover.
Sparafucile delivers a body in a bag to Rigoletto and collects his fee. The hunchback is about to tip the body into the river when he hears the voice of the Duke in the distance. Rigoletto opens the sack to find his beloved daughter inside. Gilda dies in her father’s arms. Rigoletto blames it all on Monterone’s curse.