“Gualtier Malde … Caro nome,” one of the most famous soprano arias of all time, is from Act I, Scene 2 of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. It is sung by Gilda, Rigoletto’s innocent and untainted daughter. Rigoletto is court jester to a duke, a womanizer and overall cocky bastard. The duke has been spying on Gilda from her window for some time, without the knowledge that she is the daughter of his own trusted court jester. Before the aria, he has finally approached Gilda and successfully wooed her, in the disguise of a student named Gualtier Maldé. Upon his departure, Gilda ponders the name “Gualtier Maldé,” and vows to love him until her death. This aria is very interesting when juxtaposed against the character’s next aria, “Tutte le feste al tempio,” sung after Rigoletto discovers Gilda after the duke has taken advantage of her. The simplicity and sweetness of “Caro nome” is very striking when compared to the latter, more fervently sung aria, when Gilda has lost her purity.
Much of the music paints the image of an innocent, angelic figure. The recitative section opens on a simple ascending scale, played on the flute. Many stage directors complement this opening section with specific blocking, having the performer walk up the stairs to her balcony, hence the ascending scale. The singer sings a descending passage in the recitative to counter the ascending scale played underneath. She sings the name of her lover, Gualtier Maldé, and promises to keep his name in her heart forever.
It is difficult to analyze a coloratura aria from the Romantic era, a time when composers were creating complex arias to feature the singer. Basically, the singer came first, the orchestra second. Still, the coloratura sections of this aria can be interpreted as complementing Gilda’s characterizations. The coloratura passages become more complex as the aria progresses. Gilda begins the aria very timidly and simply. She is getting used to the idea of being in love with someone; it is a new emotion that she has never experienced before. Her passages become more complex as she grows more confident that Gualtier Malde is the love of her life. The last cadenza is almost a proclamation of love to the world.
The aria is very ironic, considering that most of the coloratura passages take place on the word, “die.” IF you’re familiar with the opera, you’ll know that Gilda dies at the end. She does in fact love the duke until she dies, despite his abusing her.
The overall orchestrations are very light: flutes and violins are featured with only woodwinds and strings playing in the entire aria. Therefore, Gilda’s voice soars over the minimal orchestrations – the listener focuses on her voice. Verdi was very good at writing for the voice. He used minimal orchestrations for the moments when the performers were singing, and thicker textures when they were not.