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) - an opera by Verdi

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 of the play in South Africa

Performance history of the opera Rigoletto in South Africa

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

1937: Performed by the Carl Rosa Opera Company in English at the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town (15 July 1937).

1943: Presented in Cape Town at the Alhambra Theatre and in Johannesburg jointly by African Consolidated Theatres, the University of Cape Town, the National Opera Company, the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra under William Pickerill and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Society under John Connell (March/April).

1959: Presented by the EOAN Group.

1960: Presented by the EOAN Group.

1960: Presented by the South African Opera Federation.

1971: Presented by the EOAN Group; presented by PACT Opera.

1972: Presented by PACT Opera.

1973: Presented by CAPAB Opera.

1974: Presented by PACT Opera; presented by PACOFS Opera.

1976: Presented by CAPAB Opera.

1977: Presented by NAPAC Opera.

1981: Presented by CAPAB Opera, with Aviva Pelham, Lawrence Folley, Andrea Haller.

1988: Presented by CAPAB Opera (30 March – 18 April)

1998: Presented by CAPAB Opera (10–24 October)

2001: Presented by Black Tie Ensemble in the Aula at the University of Pretoria (May 2001), Conductor - Christopher Dowdeswell; Director - Neels Hansen; Assistance and advisors - Mimi Coertse & Lawrence Folley; Décor - Anthony Farmer; Production assistant - Arnold Cloete; Costumes - Bronwen Lovegrove & Delene Holt; Lighting - Declan Randall; Repetitor - Susan Steenkamp-Swanepoel; Chorus master - Kobus Buys; Stage manager - Vanessa Nicolau; Orchestra - Susan Steenkamp-Swanepoel & Engeli le Roux. With the following cast: Linda Zitha (Rigoletto), Jannie Moolman/Dewald von Solms (Il Duca), Beverley Chiat/Louette Johnston (Gilda), Patrick Shabalala (Monterone), Vuyani Mlinde (Saparafucile), Johanni van Oostrum/Charlotte Silulu (Maddalena), Dewald von Solms/Given Mabena (Borsa), Jonathan Boinamo (Marullo), Antoinette Olivier (Giovanna), Johan Botha (Count Ceprano), Tsakane Maswanganyi/Marlyn Repsold (Countess Ceprano) and Muriel Motsi (Il Cameriera, The Page).

2001: Presented by Cape Town Opera (22 September – 6 October)

2008: Presented by Cape Town Opera (22 February – 1 March)

2017: Presented 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

Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

"Carl Rosa Opera Company". SUNDigital Collections. https://digital.lib.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.2/9611

Sjoerd Alkema. 2012. "Conductors of the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, 1914-1965: a historical perspective". University of Cape Town. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Alexandra Xenia Sabina Mossolow. 2003. The career of South African soprano Nellie du Toit, born 1929. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of Stellenbosch.

Antoinette Johanna Olivier. 2014. 'Exploring contributions to opera by The Black Tie Ensemble: a historical case study'. Mini-dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master‟s in Music at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University.

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