Monday, November 05, 2007

Sparafucile, the incompetent hit-man

Rigoletto is one of my favorite operas, and it has one of my favorite opera characters: Sparafucile. Just saying that name makes you want to sing, or perhaps cook some pasta.

Sparafucile is a rare breed of hit-man, in that he advertises his services directly. When he sees a potential client, like Rigoletto in the second scene, looking upset and muttering about a 'maledizione' (curse), he walks right up and offers to solve the problem quickly and inexpensively. There happens to be a double bass solo (er, duet with cello) going on at the time, perhaps signalling that the world has gone completely topsy-turvy. Rigoletto considers the proposition but finally declines; Sparafucile wanders off, after repeating his own name a few times. Who wouldn't want to hire a hit-man named Sparafucile?

He's more than just a great name though - Sparafucile prides himself as an honest businessman, a straight shooter, you might say. Twenty scudi, that's all he charges - his sister Maddalena seems to think that Sparafucile is selling himself short, having taken a liking to his victim, but he's not going to budge on price. They've got a sort of motel / homicide operation going, which provides some nice synergy - it simplifies check-out, anyway.

Unfortunately, their building is falling apart and full of holes - maybe business has been a little bit flighty, like a feather in the wind - which allows for all the eavesdropping and changes in plans in the 3rd act. Maddalena proposes they murder Rigoletto instead, saving the Duke and earning the same 20 scudi. Sparafucile refuses indignantly, saying he won't tarnish his reputation as a contract killer through petty theft. No, unless someone else walks through that door right away, he's going to kill the guy he's been paid to kill, charming or not.

I'll try not to spoil the ending. Sparafucile's heart clearly wasn't in the killing that night, though - his victim is still alive in the sack, and lasts for another 15 minutes of heartbreaking arias. It's one of those great opera moments, where you're either transported and weeping uncontrollably, or else wishing that singer would just die already. I'm usually in the former category, except when I'm playing in the pit, where uncontrolled weeping is looked down upon.

For all its silly conventions, Rigoletto is an exceptional opera in that its hero is not the dashing, royal tenor, but a hunch-backed, buffoonish baritone. He has all the passions, jealousies, the loves and dreams of a heroic protagonist - unfortunately, for a jester, he's really bad at brushing off a joke. I wish Verdi had maybe gone one step further, and made an opera about the incompetent hit-man: a guy striving to do his immoral job in a noble, upstanding way, in a world where it's not always easy to kill the right people, or kill them completely. He could call it: Sparafucile.

1 comment:

fritz rieger said...

I've loved Rigoletto since I first heard it ona live from the met performance with Cornell mcNeil fifty years ago. I've had a chcance to see it several time at the old Met and the New and used to drag my University chums to see it with me--my experience was that among 20 year old guys, Sparafucile was everyone's favourite character. Once I was travelling from Rome to Zurich by train when a Gilda aged young woman entered the empty compartment. She asked me what I had done in Rome. I explained that the only thing I had time for was to see an outdoor performance of Aida but I added that althouigh I wasn't a big fan, I really loved Rigoletto. After a significant pause she quietly mentioned. "Rigoletto is my father's favourite opera"