Opera by Giuseppe Verdi
The assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden during a ball in 1792 is a historic event that serves as the subject of dramatic and operatic works. The opera "Gustav III" or "Un Ballo in Maschera" ("A Masked Ball") by D.F. Auber written on the play of the same name by E. Scribe is among the famous works on this topic. Scribe's drama and the libretto based on it serve as the plot of Verdi's opera.
None of the Maestro's works has undergone such censorship as "Un Ballo in Maschera" (originally titled "Una vendetta in domino" ("Revenge of the Dominoes"). The Austrian censorship has strictly banned the presentation of the scene of the murder of a crowned person. The ban was dictated by a recent political event – in 1858 the Italian Count Felice Orsini assassinated Napoleon III for his betrayal of Italy. Verdi was asked to transfer the action to Florence in the Middle Ages, and the king to become an ordinary nobleman. Verdi refused, despite being threatened with a penalty claim by the theatre impresario. A year later, the censorship ban was lifted. But Verdi still had to make some concessions. The assassination of a British governor in North America could not provoke undesirable associations. Thus, King Gustav III became Richard Warwick, Governor of Boston, and his assassin, Officer Ancarstrem, was named Renato. Accordingly, the other characters also received English names. Reluctantly, Verdi made these changes just to save the opera.
"Un Ballo in Maschera" belongs to the top creative achievements of the Maestro, in which word and music, music and action are inextricably linked. Psychological conflicts are depicted with Shakespearean power, while power and drama are combined with the most precise details of the mental states of the characters.
Verdi masterfully uses the method of contrast – sinister images during festive merriment, tender lyrics during a mysterious and gloomy scene. "Un Ballo in Maschera" features rich and expressive vocal parts, brilliant orchestra, masterfully constructed ensembles. The finale of Scene 2 of Act I is among the peaks of the musical dramaturgy of the opera. No love duet in all of Verdi's work can compare to the duet of Riccardo and Amelia in the second act. In a letter to Antonio Soma, Verdi explained that it was in this scene that he has put the whole "mess" of passion. Love is in fact the main theme of this opera, called by the famous Italian critic Massimo Mila Verdi's "Tristan and Isolde", but translated into Italian and transferred under the hot and passionate sun.
"Un Ballo in Maschera" had enormous and well-deserved success in its first performance – Rome, Apollo Theatre, on 17 February 1859. Very soon under the name "Amelia" the opera was staged in other theatres in Italy, and then in Paris, Berlin and other West European capitals.
The first Bulgarian premiere of "Un Ballo in Maschera" was on the stage of the Sofia Opera on 22 October 1926 under the baton of V. Bobchevski and directed by Il. Arnaudov. The last production of "Un Ballo in Maschera" at the National Opera and Ballet is from the 1992-93 season with conductor Boris Hinchev and stage director Emil Boshnakov.
Premiere– February 17, 1859 - Rome
RICCARDO – Earl of Warwick and Governor of Boston (or Gustav III, King of Sweden, or often referred to as RicCardo, King of Sweden)
RENATO – (or Count Ancarstrom) royal secretary, Riccardo's best friend
AMELIA, Renato's wife
OSCAR, page of the Earl of Warwick
SAM (or Count Ribbing) conspirator
TOM (or Count Horn) conspirator
ULRICA, a fortune-teller
SILVANO, a sailor
Friends of the King, (artists, painters, poets), high military, members of the Parliament, conspirators, poor people, servants, masked guests
Scene one: A reception hall in the Palace. At a central place is exposed the model of the opera house on construction under the guidance of the Count and for which opening he organizes a big masked ball.
Friends, distinguished artists, painters, poets and also high-ranking officers, deputies and other official guests are awaiting the Count. Most of them, patronized by Riccardo, praise him. He is renowned for his liberal attitude to the people – and has won the trust and respect of the populace. He promotes the artists and contributes with ideas and is financing the construction of new buildings as academy of science, theatres, a library.....
The guests view the model of the Opera theatre on construction under his guidance. Among the guests are Sam and Tom, together with some other discontented citizens – Riccardo loses wars, he is wasteful because of his freaks and disagrees with the wealthy Establishment. The Count enters to greet the guests. He kindly collects the petitions from the deputies who praise his merits. At the same time, the conspirators, organized by Sam and Tom are commenting that this is neither the time nor the place for them to realize the plan for Riccardo’s elimination. Oscar – his page gives him the list of those invited to the coming masked ball. Riccardo begins to read the list and notices the name of Amelia, the wife of his best friend Renato. He loves her so very much! Renato is shown into the room, stating he knows “everything”. Riccardo is shocked! He thinks his friend knows about his secret love towards his wife. Actually Renato has discovered the plot against the life of the Earl. Confident in himself, in the support of God, and his people, Riccardo calms his friend. But Renato advices him to be very careful – he is worried too much for Riccardo and for the country’s dependence on his life.
Oscar announces the Chief Justice who brings to Riccardo to sign a document ordering the banishment of the dangerous fortune-teller named Ulrica. The Earl questions Oscar if he knows’ anything about her. The page merrily tells the stories, describing her as an amusing fortune-teller. Riccardo shows interest to the fortune-teller and ignoring the Chief Justice document invites all his guests to visit Ulrica’s dwelling. Renato again warns Riccardo against the danger coming not from the meeting with the witch but from the conspirators’ bullet. Sam and Tom consider this will be their chance to realize the plotted assassination. Oscar is agitated by the forthcoming entertainment. Everyone consents on visiting Ulrica and her den.
Scene two: A basement, in which secrecy is Ulrica’s dwelling.
In front of the stunned crowd Ulrica calls upon the King of Abyss to come. Riccardo enters disguised as a fisherman. A sailor, named Silvano shows in asking about his chance for a better life after the 15 years of harsh serving in the fleet. Ulrica foretells him gold and promotion. Riccardo writes on a slip of paper and hides it with some gold in Silvano’s pocket. When paying the woman, Silvano finds the paper, and declares the prophecy fulfilled. The audience applauses and praises the fortune-teller’s abilities. From a secret opening enters Amelia’s servant and tells the fortune-teller that his noble mistress must have a private audience immediately. Ulrica sends everyone away but Riccardo recognizes the servant and hides.
Amelia rushes in. She searches Ulrica’s help to overcome her sinful love to Riccardo. Ulrica tells her to go to the gallows field at the graveyard and pick some magic herbs. Amelia must pick the herbs at midnight sharp. She promises to be brave and keep the exact time. Riccardo overhears the conversation and resolves to go there too. The crowd clamours for re-admittance as Amelia leaves. Riccardo steps in front of Ulrica. He tells her about his fisherman’s life demanding her foretelling if the sea will be generous to him. Ulrica takes his hand. She recognizes the hand of a noble man but stays silent. Riccardo insists for the fortune to be revealed. Ulrica foretells him he will be killed by the hand of a friend, the first person who shakes his hand. Riccardo readily offers to shake hands with people from the crowd but meets unwillingness.
Just at this moment Renato appears. The two friends shake hands...
Feeling no worries, Riccardo is amused with this funny visit. Only his page is frightened. The sailor Silvano comes back praising with gratitude Riccardo, who reveals his identity. The crowd acclaims the Count as father and friend, and sings hymns of gratefulness.
Scene three: A deserted gallows-field at the graveyard. Midnight.
Amelia comes to the deserted gallows-field. The place terrifies her but she has to be brave and pick the herbs to cure her from her sinful love. The bell strikes the midnight hour. Amelia has a horrific hallucination and calls upon God to have mercy upon her. Riccardo suddenly appears. The two lovers admit their overwhelming love but Amelia prefers to die because she is neither able to follow her devotee nor to run away from him.
Amelia notes her husband approaching them and covers herself with her veil in fear. Renato announces that the conspirators have understood for the date of the Earl with an unknown lady at the graveyard and are coming to kill him. He gives Riccardo his cloak and shows him a path to run away. Riccardo asks Renato to escort the lady to the city. He cannot talk to her or even look at her. Renato promises to fulfil everything and Riccardo walks away.
Sam, Tom and the other traitors enter. They are disappointed to find only Renato with an unknown lady. Tom insists they to see the mysterious lady’s face but Renato threatens them with his sword. Seeing her husband in a mortal danger Amelia removes her veil. The conspirators are shocked.
With a scornful sneer, Sam mocks at the gallant lover who has decided to court his wife at moonlight.
Shocked by his friend’s deception, Renato offers Sam and Tom a meeting at his house the next morning to discuss something important. They accept, laughing mockingly on the funny midnight story. Renato urges Amelia to go – he has promised to accompany the lady to the city.
Scene one: A study in Renato’s house. On the wall is Ricardo’s portrait, which the servants will take down.
Renato angrily accuses his wife – she is to pay with her blood. Amelia admits she loves Riccardo but she has never dishonoured her husband and declares God knows this is the truth. Renato is adamant. She must die. Amelia begs to see her son one last time. If the wife is undeserving, let this be allowed to the mother. Outraged Renato asks her to leave his study.
Who is guilty – thinks Renato, this could not be Amelia. Looking at the portrait of Riccardo he shouts “You are guilty”. His heart is filled with reminiscences for his dearest love and their tender affection. Sam and Tom enter. Renato tells them he knows about their plot to kill Riccardo and shows them documents accusing them of conspiracy. Now, he is on their side and swears in his son’s life that Riccardo will die. A vow sets their alliance. But whose will be the hand to end Riccardo’s life? Everyone has his own reason for revenge – Riccardo has taken the family hereditary castle of Tom and has killed the Sam’s brother. They make Amelia draw the lot. With trembling hands she draws a slip with the name “Renato”. Amelia prays Heaven for justice; the three men are triumphant on the coming vengeance.
Oscar has come to bring invitation for Amelia and her husband for the tonight’s masked ball. Amelia refuses the invitation. Renato asks if the Earl will be there. Oscar answers affirmatively and describes the lavish preparations. Amelia feels responsible for Riccardo’s life and thinks about warning him for the impending danger. The conspirators decide on their costumes to be blue cloaks with scarlet sign on the left. The password is “Death”.
Scene two: The box of Riccardo in the newly built Opera. Shortly before the ball begins.
Riccardo has resolved on sending Renato an ambassador. This will separate him from Amelia forever. Music is heard announcing the beginning of the masked ball long prepared by him. Oscar enters with a letter from an unknown woman warning Riccardo not to go to the ball because his life is endangered. But he can not miss the ball and the opportunity to see his beloved Amelia for one last time!
Scene three: A sumptuous foyer in the newly built opera. In a distance can be seen the ball room. The ball party is at its height. The guests enjoy and dance in splendid costumes and fairy masks. Sam, Tom and Renato recognize one another by their costumes and the password “Death”. Oscar, wearing a mask, approaches Renato and speaks his name. Renato takes off Oscar’s mask and questions the page about Riccardo. Oscar is reluctant to speak but Renato cheats him that he wants to discuss urgent matters with Riccardo and goads Oscar into telling him about his costume – Riccardo is disguised with a black cloak with red ribbon. The page and Renato mingle with the crowd of guests.
Riccardo appears. Amelia enters and begs him to run because the conspirators are ready to kill him. In desperation Amelia again admits her love to him but pleads him immediately to leave. He passionately confesses that their love gives him strength against any danger. He tells her that he has signed a decree assigning Renato an ambassador. Thus her honour will be saved and he will gravely bid farewell to her for ever.
Suddenly a gunshot is heard. Renato has recognized the Count and has shot him. The crowd is in panic. They search the shooter. Oscar points at him. The crowd is astounded to find out that this is Renato – Riccardo’s best friend. The shooter is immediately arrested but Riccardo orders his release announcing he has assigned him an ambassador and Amelia will accompany her husband. Yes, he has loved Amelia but she is innocent and her virtue is intact. Renato bitterly repents shooting his best friend.
The crowd calls upon God to save their generous master.
Riccardo bids a farewell to all and dies.