The opera is based on the true story of the assassination of King Gustav lll of Sweden who was shot while attending a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm.
Un Ballo in Maschera follows the story of the assassination of King Gustavo III of Sweden. Gustavo is in love with Amelia, the wife of Anckarström, the king’s secretary and most loyal friend. The lovers meet in secret, even though they know that their love should not continue. Unbeknownst to the King, Samuel and Tom are leading a conspiracy against the King to have him murdered.
After a trip to see the fortune teller, Ulrica, who tells the King that he will be killed by the hand of a friend, and states that it will be Anckarström. Ignoring this vision, Gustavo continues with his plans for a masked ball, trusting in the loyalty of his friend. However, when Anckarström discovers the affair, he vows to murder the King himself. Just as Gustavo has decided to leave his love for Amelia behind, he is murdered at the ball by Anckarström.
"A Masked Ball"
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Italian
About 2 hours 10 min + intervals
Stockholm, Sweden in 1792
Boston, Massachusetts, late 17th century
A public audience at Riccardo's palace, attended by his supporters, but also by his enemies who hope for his demise.
Riccardo (Gustavo) reviews the list of guests who will attend an upcoming masked ball. He is elated to see the name of the woman he loves on the list – Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor, Renato (Count Anckarström). (Aria: La rivedrò nell'estasi / "There I will be in ecstasy to see her again"). When Renato arrives, he tries to warn Riccardo about the growing conspiracy against him (aria: Alla vita che t'arride / "Your life, so full of joy and hope"), but Riccardo refuses to listen to his words.
Next, Riccardo is presented with a complaint against a fortune-teller named Ulrica (Madame Arvidson), accused of witchcraft. A magistrate calls for her banishment, but Oscar the page defends her (Aria: Volta la terrea / "Turning her eyes from the earth"). Riccardo resolves to investigate for himself and tells the members of the court to disguise themselves and to meet him at Ulrica's lodging later that day.
At Ulrica's dwelling
Ulrica summons her magical powers: Re dell'abisso, affrettati / "King of the abyss, make haste". Disguised as a fisherman, Riccardo arrives before the others. He makes the fortune of a sailor named Silvano come true by spiriting a document of promotion into his pouch, convincing the crowd of the truth of Ulrica's powers. When he realizes that Amelia is coming to see Ulrica, he hides and watches. Alone with Ulrica, Amelia confesses that she is tormented by her love for Riccardo, and asks for a means to bring peace to her heart. Ulrica tells her to gather a certain herb with magical powers; Riccardo resolves to be there when she does so. Amelia leaves.
Now Riccardo presents himself again, along with all of the courtiers, and asks to have his fortune told. (Aria: Di' tu se fedele / "Tell me if the sea awaits me faithfully"). Ulrica reveals that he will be killed by the next man who shakes his hand. He laughingly dismisses her prophecy and offers his hand to the courtiers, who refuse to take it. Renato arrives and shakes Riccardo's hand in greeting. Riccardo's true identity is now revealed and he is acclaimed by the people.
On the outskirts of the town, at the gallows-place. Midnight
Amelia, conquering her fears, has come here alone to pick the herb of which Ulrica told her (Aria: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa / "But when I have plucked the herb"). She is surprised by Riccardo, who has come to meet her, and the two finally declare their love for each other. Unexpectedly, Renato arrives, and Amelia covers her face with her veil before he can recognize her. Renato explains to Riccardo that the conspirators are pursuing him, and his life is in danger. Riccardo leaves, making Renato promise to escort the veiled woman safely back to town, not asking her identity. When the conspirators arrive, they confront Renato; in the struggle, Amelia's veil drops. Renato assumes that Amelia and Riccardo have been involved in an adulterous love affair. He asks the two leaders of the conspiracy, Samuel and Tom, to meet him the next day.
Renato has resolved to kill Amelia for the dishonour she has brought on him. She protests her innocence and begs to see her son one last time. (Aria: Morrò, ma prima in grazia / "I will die, but first, a kindness"). Renato relents, and declares that it is Riccardo, not Amelia, who deserves to die (Aria: Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima / "You were the one who stained her soul").
Samuel (Count Ribbing) and Tom (Count Horn) arrive, and Renato asks to join their plot, pledging the life of his son as proof of his sincerity. They agree to draw lots to decide who will kill Riccardo. Amelia is forced to draw the winning name – Renato.
Oscar, the page, arrives with invitations to the masked ball; Samuel, Tom and Renato agree that this is where the assassination will take place.
Riccardo, torn between love and duty, has resolved to renounce his love for Amelia and send her and Renato back to England (Aria: Ma se m'è forza perderti / "But if I am forced to lose her").
At the ball, Renato tries to learn from Oscar what costume Riccardo is wearing. Oscar at first refuses to tell (Aria: Saper vorreste / "You want to know"), but he finally answers: a black cloak and a red ribbon. Riccardo manages to identify Amelia and tells her of the decision he has made. As they say goodbye, Renato stabs Riccardo. The wounded Riccardo discloses that though he loved Amelia, she never broke her marriage vows. He pardons all the conspirators, bidding farewell to his friends and his country as he dies.
Original Swedish version/Boston version
Gustavo/Riccardo - Tenor (spinto)
King of Sweden
Earl of Warwick and governor of Boston
Amelia/Amelia - Soprano (dramatic)
Wife of Anckarström, in love with Gustavo
Wife of Renato, in love with Riccardo
Count Anckarström/Renato - Baritone (Kavalier)
Husband of Amelia and Gustavo's secretary, best friend and confidant
Husband of Amelia and Riccardo's secretary, best friend and confidant
Oscar/Oscar - Soprano (lyric coloratura)
Madame Arvidson/Ulrica - Mezzo-soprano (contralto)
A judge - tenor
Cristiano/Silvano - Bass
Amelia's servant - Tenor
Count Ribbing/Samuel - Bass
Count Horn/Tom - Bass
Place of birth: Le Roncole, Italy
Place of death: Milan, Italy
Verdi is one of our most beloved opera composers with hits like Rigoletto, Aida and Falstaff. He was a very productive composer, writing nearly 30 operas spanning from 1839 to 1893.
In his twenties tragic events unfolded when Verdi lost his two children in infancy and shortly thereafter his first wife. He remarried years later to the renowned soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who became his life companion.
Verdi is known for modernising Italian opera by writing long passages of through-composed music and unifying acts for a more continuous dramatic development. This is more noticeable in his later works. He came to dominate the opera scene after an era of bel canto composers such as Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.
“To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better. ”
Verdi was a food lover, adored Shakespeare and the only piece of chamber music he wrote was a string quartet.
Verdi and Wagner were born in the same year. They were known to be rivals even though they never met.
Most prominent operas
I masnadieri 1847
Luisa Miller 1849
Il trovatore 1853
La traviata 1853
I vespri Siciliani 1855
Simon Boccanegra 1857
Un ballo in maschera 1859
La forza del destino 1862
Don Carlo 1867
The libretto for Un ballo in maschera is based on Eugène Scribe's libretto for Daniel Auber's opera, Gustave III ou Le Bal masqué, that premiered in 1833.
Antonio Somma was an Italian playwright most known for writing the libretto for Un ballo in maschera. He also had an early success with the tragic play Parisina. After writing the libretto for Un ballo in maschera, Somma continued his careeer with focus on stage plays.
2d1, 2+1, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, bells strings
The original plot for Un ballo in maschera is based on the true story of the Swedish King Gustavo III who was shot at a masked ball in 1792, dying 13 days later of his injuries.
The opera was censored and therefore Verdi and Somma had to make changes to the original setting and characters. It was first changed to Una vendetta in Domino, set in Stettin, but finally resulted in the title we know today, Un ballo in maschera, set in Boston in colonial times. The opera premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome in 1859.
Today it is one of the top 30 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - La rivedra nell'estasi (Gustavo III/Riccardo)
Aria – Alla vita che t'arride (Renato)
Aria – Volte la terrea (Oscar)
Aria - Re dell'abisso affrettati (Ulrica)
Duet – Teco io sto (Amelia, Gustavo III/Riccardo)
Aria – Morró, ma prima in grazia (Amelia)
Aria – Alzati!... Eri tu che macchiavi (Renato)
Aria – Forse la soglia attinse... Ma se m'è forza perderti (Oscar/Riccardo)