Giuserre Verdi

A Masked Ball

Giuseppe Verdi - Un ballo in maschera

All Pictures  by Konstantin Somov (1869-1939)

A Masked Ball is the only one of Verdi's opera stories to take place in what is today the United States. Even so, it was transplanted only by accident—or rather, by censor. It is based on a play by the French dramatist Scribe, and its story originally had to do with the murder of King Gustavus III of Sweden. But in 1858, when the opera was about to be mounted, an attempt on the life of Napoleon III had just been made. The authorities in Naples were frightened: they thought that an opera about a murdered king might give the Neapolitans some unhealthy inspiration. Therefore the story had to be changed. The censors (who are always very wise and subtile folk) agreed that no one could get excited if the murdered man were to be no king at all, but merely the Governor of colonial Boston. Perhaps they knew that colonial Boston bad no governor, rather Massachusetts had one. Who cared, anyway? And so the opera came finally to be performed the following year, not at Naples after all, but in Rome. And sure enough—there was no riot at all, and not a single king was murdered because of this opera.
 

When the Metropolitan Opera revived it in the 1940’s and again in the 1950's, they put the scene back into Sweden, where it originally belonged. But that made for certain absurdities too. For instance, they bad to keep the names of the characters as the singers had learned them. And so the hero was still Riccardo-that is Richard, Earl of Warwick, who might have been a perfectly splendid Governor of Massachusetts, but certainly was never a King of Sweden. And the two villains, Sam and Tom,who are sometimes played as Negroes or as Indians, were suddenly transformed into Samuele and Tommaso, a couple of elegantly dressed Swedish noblemen!
 

Well, to avoid all this complicated nonsense, let us stick to the simpler nonsense of the story as it was first told on the stage of the Apollo Theater at Rome on the evening of February 17, 1859. It's really quite a good operatic story.

Roles

A MASKED BALL
(Un hallo in maschera

Opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with

libretto in Italian by Antonio Somma based on

Augustin Eugene Scribe's text for Daniel Auber's
Gustave III ou Le bal masque

 

Riccardo, Count of Warwick and Governor of Boston

Renato, his friend and secretary
Amelia, Renato's wife
Ulrica, a fortuneteller
Oscar, a page



Time: 18th century
Place: Boston

First performance at Rome, February 17, 1859
Note—Sometimes the scene of the opera is shifted to Naples, sometimes to Stockholm; sometimes the names of the characters are changed accordingly, sometimes not. The music remains the same.

Characters

Riccardo:

Gustavus III (Verdi: Un ballo in maschera). (Riccardo, Count of Warwick in Amer. vers.) Tenor. King of Sweden (changed to Governor of Boston in the American version). He is in love with Amelia, wife of his loyal secretary and best friend Anckarstroem. He meets her in a wood outside the city and they declare their feelings, but she tells him she will always remain faithful to her husband. They are interrupted by the arrival of Anckarstroem, warning the King of a conspiracy and advising him to return at once to the town by a safe route. Anckarstroem discovers that the lady is his wife and swears vengeance. The King gives a masked ball at his palace, attended by Amelia and Anckarstroem. His page-boy Oscar unwittingly reveals which costume the King is wearing and Anckarstroem shoots him. As he dies, Gustavus swears to his old friend that Amelia has been always faithful and begs everyone present not to avenge his death.
Arias: La rivedra nell'estasi ('I shall see her again in ecstasy'); Ah crudele, e mel rammemori ('Ah cruel one, to remind me ofhim'). Created (1859) by Gaetano Fraschini.

Placido Domingo - Amici miei,soldati..."La rivedra nell'estasi" 1975

Renato:

Anckarstroem, Capt. (Verdi: Un ballo in maschera). (Renato in Amer. vers.) Baritone. Secretary and loyal friend of King Gustavus III. Married to Amelia, whom the King secretly loves. He uncovers a plot to overthrow the King and goes to warn him. He finds him with a lady who immediately covers her face with a veil. Advising the King to return safely to his palace, he himself escorts the veiled lady. They are accosted by conspirators and the lady's veil is removed. To Anckarstroem's horror, it is Amelia. Despite her protests of faithfulness, he vows to avenge himself by killing the King. He and his wife attend a masked ball at the palace. Under the pretext of needing to warn the King of enemies present, he persuades the pageboy Oscar to tell him which costume the King is wearing. He shoots Gustavus who, as he dies, swears that Amelia has remained faithful to her husband. Arias: Alla vita che t'arride (‘To our life with which you are favoured’); Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima (‘It was you who stained that soul’). Created (1859) by Leone Giraldoni. 

Ettore Bastianini, "Eri tu che macchiavi," Masked Ball

Amelia:

Amelia (Verdi: Un ballo in maschera). (Amelia also in Аmег. vers.) Soprano. Wife of Captain Anckarstroem, the King's secretary and friend. King Gustavus is in love with Amelia In a field near Stockholm, she eventually admits that the feeling is mutual, but they must sacrifice these feelings and she will remain faithful to her husband. Their meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Anckarstroem and Amelia covers her face with a veil, Anckarstroem offers to escort her back to the gates of the city. They are interrupted on the way by conspirators plotting against the King and Amelia's veil is pulled off, revealingher identity to her shocked husband. She accompanies him to a masked ball at the palace where he kills Gustavus.
Arias: Come avro di mia mano quell'erba ('When the herb is in my hand'); Consentimi, О Signore ('Grant me, O Lord' - known as Amelia's Prayer); Morro, mа prima in grazia (‘Before I die, one last wish’). Created (1859) by Eugenia Julienne-Dejean.

Renata Scotto - "Morro, ma prima in grazia" - Verdi

Ulrica:

Mme Arvidson (Verdi: Un ballo in maschera). (Ulrica in the Amer. vers.) Contralto. A negro fortune‐teller, she is accused of sorcery and is to be exiled, but the pageboy Oscar begs the King to show mercy. The King goes in disguise to her quarters to see for himself what she does. She reads his palm and tells him he will soon die, slain by the first man to shake hands with him.
Arias: Re dell'abisso, affrettati (‘King of the abyss, make haste’); Dunque ascoltate (‘Then listen to me’). In this role, in 1955, Marian Anderson became the first black singer to appear on the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera. Created (1859) by Zelinda Sbriscia.

Giuseppe Verdi, Ulrica's aria, act I from A Masked Ball opera,  Wanda Bargielowska Bargeyllo

Un Ballo in Maschera Pavarotti, Cappuccilli, Tomowa Sintow; Chailly,
Theatre de Genève, 03 1984

Synopsis

ACT I
 

Scene 1  After a prelude, which includes some of the principal themes from the opera, the stage business begins with a chorus in praise of Riccardo, that is, the Governor of colonial Boston. His court is assembled, and the page boy, Oscar, announces the Governor's entrance. Riccardo examines a number of state papers, among them a list of guests to be invited to a masked balL He sees the name of Amelia on the list and rhapsodizes about her in the aria La rivedro nell estasi. However melodious, this tune is an aside; that is, it is heard by no one present except the audience in thе auditorium. A good thing, too. For the beloved Amelia is the wife of Renato» and Renato is Riccardo's secretary and closest confidant. Meantime, a group of conspirators in Riccardo's court keeps muttering about their discontent.
 

Now Renato enters, and the rest of the court departs. The secretary warns his master about plots on his life that he has heard about, and in the aria Alla vita che t'arride tells him how valuable that life is. But Riccardo is not impressed with his danger at all, and a moment later some judges enter with an order for Riccardo to sign. It is to banish the soothsayer Ulrica. Oscar returns to plead on the old woman's behalf— and to show off his Virtuoso vocal technique in the aria Volta la terrea, for his part is assigned to a coloratura soprano.
 

The good-natured Riccardo sees a chance for fun in this. Despite Renato's warnings, he invites the whole court to join him in a visit to the fortuneteller's hut. For himself he plans to assume the disguise of a sailor. In the closing ensemble everyone is looking forward to this lark. Even the two conspirators, Samude and Tommaso, see in it a good chance to help along their wicked designs.

Scene 2 takes us to the hut of Ulrica, the fortuneteller. Before a large crowd, she is mixing her witch's brew, and she intones an incantation to the words Re dell' abisso affrettati. A saflor named Silvano now has a question to ask her. Will he ever get the money or the promotion he thinks he deserves? Ulrica predicts that he wfll. And Riccardo (who has slipped in, in his disguise) secretly puts a promotion and some money into Silvano's pocket. Naturally, everyone is surprised and delighted when Silvano, a moment later, finds them there.
 

Next, a messenger from Amelia comes to ask private audience with Ulrica, and when everyone has left (excepting Riccardo, who hides himself in the hut), the lady enters. She tells of her love for Riccardo and asks how she may forget him. Ulrica says there is but one way: she must gather, this very night, some herbs that grow beneath the gallows outside the city gates. Furthermore, she must go unattended. But in the trio that follows this advice, Riccardo lets the audience know that Amelia shall not be unguarded.
 

Now all the rest of the crowd returns, including tike courtiers. Riccardo (still disguised as a saflor) sings a delightful barcarole (Di' tu se fidele) and demands to know his future. Ulrica recognizes his band as belonging to a nobleman and a warrior, but her prediction is a very sour one: Riccardo is to be murdered! And by whom? By the next man to shake his hand. Riccardo takes this as a huge joke and, laughingly, he demands that someone shake his hand at once. Everyone refuses; but just then, enter Renato, ms friend and the husband of Amelia. He has come to protect bis beloved master, and, all unwittingly, be takes bis band in bis. Now Riccardo reveals bis true identity to the witch. He also tells her that her prophecies are patently nonsensical, and therefore she may safely remain in the country. The act ends with another chorus in praise of the genial Riccardo, son of England.

ACT II
 

It is late at night when the second act begins. Amelia slinks in,  before the snow-covered gallows, and is about to commence her fearful task. Bitterly she laments the fact that she must extinguish forever the love she bears Riccardo, but she is resolute nonetheless. At the close of her aria (Ma dall' arido) she sees a figure approaching in the darkness. At first she is frightened, but it turns out to be Riccardo himself. In the long duet that follows, he begs for her love; but she points out its dishonor, for her husband, Renato, is Riccardo's most devoted friend. Nobly he agrees; and as their tragic emotions come to a musical climax, they see another figure approaching. This time it is—Renatol Quickly Amelia hides her face in her cloak. Renato has come to warn Riccardo once more, for the conspirators are even now on his trails Riccardo asks Renato to escort the lady with him back to the city, and he must do so without once speaking to her or trying to find out who she is. Renato readily consents, and Riccardo quickly leaves.

It is just in time. For now the two villains enter—Samuele and Tommaso—ready to kill the Count. When, in their disappointment, they find only Renato and not Riccardo, they start to taunt the veiled beauty with him. Renato angrily draws his sword, the conspirators draw theirs, and Amelia steps in to save her husband. As she does so, her veil drops—and Renato discovers who she is. A dramatic quartet follows, punctuated by the villainous ha-ha-ha's of the two conspirators. As ihe act closes, Renato invites these men to bis house. Now he is on their side, and against his former friend and master, Riccardo, the noble Governor of Boston.

ACT II
 

It is late at night when the second act begins. Amelia slinks in,  before the snow-covered gallows, and is about to commence her fearful task. Bitterly she laments the fact that she must extinguish forever the love she bears Riccardo, but she is resolute nonetheless. At the close of her aria (Ma dall' arido) she sees a figure approaching in the darkness. At first she is frightened, but it turns out to be Riccardo himself. In the long duet that follows, he begs for her love; but she points out its dishonor, for her husband, Renato, is Riccardo's most devoted friend. Nobly he agrees; and as their tragic emotions come to a musical climax, they see another figure approaching. This time it is—Renatol Quickly Amelia hides her face in her cloak. Renato has come to warn Riccardo once more, for the conspirators are even now on his trails Riccardo asks Renato to escort the lady with him back to the city, and he must do so without once speaking to her or trying to find out who she is. Renato readily consents, and Riccardo quickly leaves.

It is just in time. For now the two villains enter—Samuele and Tommaso—ready to kill the Count. When, in their disappointment, they find only Renato and not Riccardo, they start to taunt the veiled beauty with him. Renato angrily draws his sword, the conspirators draw theirs, and Amelia steps in to save her husband. As she does so, her veil drops—and Renato discovers who she is. A dramatic quartet follows, punctuated by the villainous ha-ha-ha's of the two conspirators. As ihe act closes, Renato invites these men to bis house. Now he is on their side, and against his former friend and master, Riccardo, the noble Governor of Boston.

Scene 2 takes place on the evening of the ball itself. Count Riccardo is alone: he has resolved to send Renato and Amelia back to England Thus, through self-sacrifice, he may achieve peace of mind for himself and happiness for his friend and his beloved Amelia.

At the end of the aria he receives an anonymous note advising him not to attend his own ball. But Riccardo is fearless, and he resolves to go.

Scene 3 And now, without an intermission, the scene shifts and the ball is in progress. Everyone is, of course, disguised; but by questioning and threatening young Oscar, Renato manages to find out the disguise of Riccardo.

Presently, during the dance, Amelia, masked like everyone else, meets Riccardo. Trying to disguise her voice, she gives him one more warning of the plot against his life, for, of course, it was Amelia who had sent the warning letter. But Riccardo recognizes his beloved. He tells her of his plan to return her and Renato to England, and their voices join in one final love duet. Renato, overhearing them, steals up behind Riccardo— and, with an exultant cry, deals him a deathblow.

Immediately Renato is seized; but with his last words Riccardo forgives him and hands over the order, already signed, for his return to England with Amelia. With everyone sorrowing over the loss of so noble a ruler as Riccardo, the opera closes on a rich but somber concerted number.

Assassination of Gustav III King of Sweden

Gustav III's war against Russia and the implementation of the Union and Security Act in 1789 helped to increase a hatred against the king among the nobility that had been growing ever since the coup d'état in 1772. A conspiracy to have the king killed and reform the constitution took place within the nobility in the winter of 1791-92. Among those involved were Jacob Johan Anckarström, Adolph Ribbing, Claes Fredrik Horn, Carl Pontus Lilliehorn and Carl Fredrik Pechlin.

The assassination of the king took place at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm at midnight on 16 March 1792. Gustav had arrived earlier that evening to enjoy a dinner in the company of friends. During dinner, he received an anonymous letter that contained a threat to his life (written by the colonel of the Life guards Carl Pontus Lilliehorn), but, as the king had received numerous threatening letters in the past, he chose to ignore it. After dining, he left his rooms to take part in the masquerade. 
The letter was written in French, and in translation it started:

 

To the King – with the greatest humility.

Pray, allow an unknown whose pen is guided by tactfulness and the voice of conscience, dare take the liberty to inform You, with all possible sincerity, that certain individuals exist, both in the Provinces and here in the City, that only breathe hatred and revenge against You; indeed to the extreme of wanting to shorten Your days, through murder.

They are greatly upset to see this not happening at the last masquerade but they rejoice at the tidings of seeing that there will be a new one today. Bandits do not like lanterns; there is nothing more serviceable for an assassination than darkness and disguise. I dare, then, to appeal to You, by everything that is holy in this world, to postpone this damnable ball, to such times as are more positive for Your present as well as coming benefit...

























Soon upon entering, he was surrounded by Anckarström and his co-conspirators, Count Claes Fredrik Horn and Count Adolf Ludvig Ribbing. The king was easily spotted, mainly due to the breast star of the Royal Order of the Seraphim that glowed in silver upon his cape. The conspirators were all wearing black masks and accosted him in French with the words:
 

Bonjour, beau masque ("Good-day, fine masked man")

Anckarström moved behind the king and fired a pistol-shot into the left side of his back. The king jumped aside, crying in French:

 

Ah! Je suis blessé, tirez-moi d'ici et arrêtez-le ("Ah! I am wounded, take me away from here and arrest him!")

The king was carried back to his quarters, and the exits of the Opera were sealed. Anckarström was arrested the following morning and immediately confessed to the murder, although he denied a conspiracy until informed that Horn and Ribbing had also been arrested and had confessed in full.

The king had not been shot dead; he was alive and continued to function as head of state. The coup was a failure in the short run. However, the wound became infected, and on 29 March, the king finally died with these last words:
 

Jag känner mig sömnig, några ögonblicks vila skulle göra mig gott ("I feel sleepy, a few moments' rest would do me good")

Ulrica Arfvidsson, the famous medium of the Gustavian era, had told him something that could be interpreted as a prediction of his assassination in 1786, when he visited her anonymously – a coincidence - but she was known to have a large network of informers all over town to help her with her predictions, and she was in fact interrogated about the murder.

Gustav III in 1772;  Gustav's masquerade dress

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