The womanising Duke of Mantua is throwing a party in his basement – a private art gallery. The Duke mentions the women that he is eyeing up, and Rigoletto, the Duke’s jester, mocks the husbands of his employer’s conquests. He also mocks Monterone, a statesman whose underage daughter has been seduced, who fires a curse back at Rigoletto.
Rigoletto, terrified by the curse, returns to his safehouse to check on his own daughter Gilda, who he keeps hidden away. But in spite of his precautions, the Duke, disguised as a poor student, follows his Head of Security Sparafucile to Rigoletto’s hideout. He swears his love for Gilda, who falls for him completely.
Later that night, smarting from Rigoletto’s insults, a group of the Duke’s guests plot to kidnap Gilda (who they actually believe at this point to be the jester’s secret mistress). Rigoletto is tricked into assisting with the abduction and is distraught when he realises what has happened. The curse has begun…
The next morning, Rigoletto returns to the Duke’s court, desperately searching for Gilda. He tries to be nonchalant but is overcome with fear and anger, and begs for his daughter’s return. Suddenly Gilda appears, devastated. She confesses to her father everything that has happened.
Rigoletto is furious and swears he will have revenge on the Duke, but Gilda pleads for mercy, as she is still deeply in love with him. Rigoletto makes a plan for both him and his daughter to leave Mantua.
Rigoletto has arranged for Sparafucile (the Duke’s Head of Security) to assassinate his own boss. Sparafucile will use his sister Maddalena as bait in their secret lair – a location on the other side of town.
The Duke arrives and flirts with Maddalena. Gilda, who Rigoletto has brought to watch to convince her of the Duke’s true nature, is heartbroken. Rigoletto sends her away to get ready for their departure from Mantua, and then confirms the arrangements with Sparafucile. But Maddalena, hearing the plan, begs her brother to spare the man that she too has now fallen in love with. He says that unless Maddalena can find another victim before midnight, the Duke will die.
Gilda, dressed as a boy and ready to leave, overhears and decides to sacrifice herself to save the man she still loves. She is stabbed by Sparafucile. Rigoletto returns to collect the body bag in which he expects to find the dead Duke, but when he opens it he finds his own daughter, fatally wounded. The curse has come to pass.