Ballo in maschera, Un (A Masked Ball)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Melodramma in three acts. 1858.
  • Libretto by Antonio Somma after Eugène Scribe’s Gustave III, ou Le Bal masqué (Gustav III, or The Masked Ball).
  • First performance at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 17th February 1859.
CHARACTERS
Riccardo, Count of Warwick (Gustavus III of Sweden) tenor
Amelia, wife of Renato soprano
Renato, secretary to the Governor (Anckarstrom) baritone
Samuele (Count Ribbing) bass
Tommaso (Count Horn) bass
Silvano, a sailor (Cristian) baritone
Oscar, a page soprano
Ulrica, a fortune-teller (Arvidson) contralto

Originally set in late 18th-century Sweden, the plot dealt with a conspiracy against Gustavus III and his assassination. Verdi and his librettist were compelled by censorship in Naples, for which the work was originally intended, to change the scene from Sweden to Boston and the King to the English Governor. In the Boston version first performed, Riccardo is in love with Amelia, wife of his friend and secretary, Renato, who has discovered a plot against the Governor. Riccardo consults the fortune-teller Ulrica and overhears Amelia seek from the old woman a remedy for her love for Riccardo. The woman tells Riccardo he will be killed by a friend. At midnight by the gallows, Amelia seeks the magic herb that will cure her, meeting there Riccardo, who has overheard her plan. Renato approaches, warning Riccardo of a plot to kill him, and is told to escort the veiled woman back, without seeking her identity. The conspirators seize them both and reveal Amelia’s identity, leading to the tragedy of the third act, where, at a masked ball, Renato kills Riccardo, who had resolved to part with Amelia and now, as he dies, assures her husband of her fidelity.

Un ballo in maschera is often performed in its Swedish setting, rather than the improbable Boston. Others have transposed the work elsewhere, notably to Naples. In its dramatic music it combines elements of French and Italian style, the light and dark of Oscar and Ulrica and the more deeply characterised Renato and Amelia. The overture offers elements of the first scene, a chorus, a fugato and the first aria of Riccardo. Recital repertoire includes the tenor La rivedrà nell’estasi (I shall see her again in delight) and the baritone Alla vita che t’arride (To the life that gives us joy), the tenor’s Neapolitan Di’tu se fedele il flutto m’aspetta (Tell me if the sea faithful awaits me), as Riccardo confronts the sorceress, and his moving Ma se m’è forza perderti per sempre (But if I am forced to lose you for ever) in an opera where the tenor has a predominant role. Amelia has the demanding scene at the gallows, with her recitative and aria Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa (But parted from its dry stem) as she picks the magic herb, followed by her love duet with Riccardo, and her moving scene in which she asks Renato for pity, Morrò, ma prima in grazia deh! mi consenti (I die, but first of your kindness grant me), pleading to be allowed to see her son.