Franz Liszt, an inveterate transcriber and recycler, was always willing to write music based on the themes of other composers, never concerned he would advance their reputation possibly at the expense of his own. Here, he fashioned a substantial concert piece after thematic material from one of the most dramatic moments in Verdi's opera, Rigoletto.
The womanizing Duke of Mantua is romancing Maddalena, his latest conquest, at an inn. Outside, his bitter, hunchback court jester Rigoletto and Rigoletto's daughter Gilda, who is madly in love with the Duke, observe his infidelity to their utter dismay. Rigoletto intends to have a hired assassin kill the Duke. The Verdi music here depicts innocence and deceit, treachery and disappointment, but in a less grim manner, focusing more on dramatics.
Liszt uses the famous quartet from this scene, "Bella figlia dell'amore" which comes in the final act shortly after the Duke's even more famous La donna è mobile aria. The composer deftly manipulates the themes in the quartet to encompass the range of emotions, as well as the melodic richness of Verdi's music. Actually, Liszt used a formula of sorts in his Verdi paraphrases (there are others, including Ernani and Il Trovatore), which was to write an introduction and coda to frame the scene, based, of course, on the thematic materials in the music. One essential aim of Liszt's Verdi forays was to write a showpiece well suited to the piano's sonorities and expressive range. To that end he succeeded.
The theme which largely dominates here is first sung by Maddalena, and Liszt fashions his introduction from it. It has an air of both nonchalance and darkness in its gaiety. A second theme, typically Verdian in its melancholy, is also prominently used by Liszt. The colors are brilliant throughout, and the ending is virtuosic and attractive. This is much fun, though hardly deep music.