Le Roi s'Amuse

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Le Roi s'Amuse (lit. "the King amuses himself" or "the King has fun") is a French play in five acts written Victor Hugo (1802-1885)[1].

The original text

Set in Paris in the 1520s, the play tells the tragic story of Triboulet, a court jester, the licentious king François the First of France and Triboulet's beautiful daughter Blanche. First performed on 22 November 1832, the play was banned by the French government after one evening, and, despite vain court battles, remained so for 50 years.

It finally had a second performance at the Comédie-Française on 22 November 1882, the date of the play's 50th anniversary, leading to 19 performances that year and 28 more in 1883.

Translations and adaptations

Besides the various versions of the opera (see below), the play has seen adaptation inter alia as the short story 'Sense of Humour' by Damon Runyon (published in the collection Furthermore, 1938); Il re si diverte ("He amuses himself", a 1941 Italian film); and The Prince's Play (an English stage version, 1996).

Rigoletto (1851)

Based on Hugo's play, this tragic Italian opera by Guiseppi Verdi (1813-1901)[2] was originally called La Maledizione ("The Curse"), with an Italian libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876)[3].

Because of censorship by the Austrian authorities in Venice, the authors set the story in Mantua, and renamed the characters, e.g. with François the First becoming the Duke of Mantua, Triboulet becoming Rigoletto, and Blanche becoming Gilda, and so on.

The opera focusses on the tragic story of the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto's beautiful daughter Gilda.

The opera's was originally called La Maledizione ("The Curse"), and refers to a curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter the Duke has seduced with Rigoletto's encouragement, but was later named after its popular main chgaracter.

Despite serious initial problems with the Austrian censors who had control over northern Italian theatres at the time, the Verdi opera had a triumphant premiere at La Fenice in Venice on 11 March 1851.

A number of film versions have been made of the opera, including Rigoletto (1918), Rigoletto e la sua tragedia (1956), Rigoletto (1982), Rigoletto (1993) and Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto Story (2005). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigoletto.

The Prince's Play (1996)

Tony Harrison (1937-)[4] translated and adapted Hugo's play for the National Theatre in London, calling it The Prince's Play, and setting it in Victorian London, with the central character a comic at the court of Victoria and the philanderer villain the future Edward VII. The play premièred in April 1996 and was published by Faber and Faber as Le Roi S'Amuse / The Prince's Play (and crediting both authors) in of the same year.

Performance history in South Africa

Listed below are some of the various versions of the original play by Hugo, including the Verdi opera.

1893-4: Rigoletto performed by the Lyric Opera Company on tour in South Africa, including performances in the Opera House, Cape Town.

2017: Rigoletto performed by Cape Town Opera in Artscape Theatre Centre on 11, 14, 16 and 18 February, directed by Marthinus Basson, with choreography by Mark Hoeben, set design by Marthinus Basson, costume designe by Michael Mitchell and lighting by Kobus Rossouw. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kamal Khan,










D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p. 401

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