01 Feb 2009

VERDI: Un ballo in maschera — La Scala 1957

Un ballo in maschera: Melodramma in three acts

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Libretto by Antonio Somma after Eugène Scribe’s libretto Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué.

First Performance: 17 February 1859, Teatro Apollo, Rome.

Principal Roles:
Riccardo, Count of Warwick, Governor of Boston Tenor
Renato, a Creole, his secretary, and husband of Amelia Baritone
Amelia Soprano
Ulrica, a fortune-teller Contralto
Oscar, a page Soprano
Silvano, a sailor Bass
Samuel Bass
Tom Bass
Un Giudice [A Judge] Tenor
Un servo d’Amelia [Amelia’s Servant] Tenor

Setting: In and around Boston, at the end of the 17th century


Act I

Scene 1. The governor’s house

Courtiers awaiting the arrival of the governor sing his praises, while malcontents conspire to bring about his downfall.

Riccardo contemplates the responsibilities of his position. The page Oscar hands him a list of guests for a ball; seeing the name of Amelia, he looks forward to seeing her again.

His secretary Renato, Amelia’s husband, warns him that there is a conspiracy afoot; but Riccardo, relieved that Renato has not discovered his passion for his wife, averse to shedding blood and confident in the love of his people, is unconcerned. Renato warns him against overconfidence and urges him to preserve his life for the sake of his people.

The chief justice brings an order of banishment against the fortune-teller Ulrica for the governor to sign. Oscar defends her and Riccardo decides to see for himself, telling Oscar to get him a fisherman’s costume as a disguise and summoning the court to meet him at Ulrica’s at three.

The conspirators hope to get a chance to kill him and the rest of the court, led by Riccardo, look forward to an entertaining afternoon.

Scene 2. The fortune-teller’s den

People gather to have their fortunes told, while Ulrica invokes the devil to aid her power of prophecy.

The disguised count mingles with the crowd in time to hear a sailor, Silvano, ask what will be his reward for years of faithful service to the count. The fortune-teller promises him money and promotion, and the governor, to prove her right, slips a note to this effect into Silvano’s pocket. When he finds it all are impressed with the accuracy of the prophecy.

Amelia comes to ask Ulrica for a prescription which will free her from the guilty love she feels for the governor and Riccardo, overhearing Ulrica instruct her to pick at midnight a herb growing beneath the gallows, resolves to be there as well.

The rest of the court arrives, not recognising the governor, although he reveals his identity to Oscar and orders him to keep the secret. Still in disguise, the governor asks the fortune-teller to say whether he will be lucky in love and at sea. When she looks at his hand, she recognises that he is a great man; then frightened by what she sees, refuses to continue. He insists and she tells him that he will die soon and at the hand of a friend.

Riccardo is derisive, Oscar and the bystanders filled with dread and the conspirators nervous. She repeats the warning and then identifies the murderer as the next man to shake him by the hand. Riccardo offers his hand in vain to the courtiers and conspirators, but when the unsuspecting Renato arrives, he takes the hand, thus proving to the governor’s satisfaction the falseness of the prophecy as Renato is his best friend.

Ulrica now recognises him with fear and he reminds her that she had been unable to penetrate his disguise or divine that he had been on the point of banishing her. He soothes her fears and she reiterates her warning, adding, to the alarm of the conspirators, that more than one traitor is lurking.

Silvano leads the bystanders in a hymn of praise to the governor.

Act II

The gallows outside the city at midnight

Amelia, almost overcome with terror, comes to pick the herb. Riccardo comes and declares his love, but she reminds him that she is the wife of a man who would give his life for him. Riccardo admits that he is consumed with remorse, but the power of his love is stronger and Amelia finally confesses that she loves him.

Their ecstasy is cut short by the arrival of Renato, warning that there are conspirators close by. He manages to persuade the governor to leave by a safe path and promises to escort the now-veiled Amelia to the city wihtout trying to uncover her identity.

The conspirators surround Renato and Amelia and, realising that their prey has eluded them, insist on knowing the identity of the lady. Renato is prepared to fight to prevent this but Amelia, trying to intervene, drops her veil.

The conspirators are diverted at the strange time and place Renato has chosen for an assignation with his own wife; and he, furious at having been betrayed by his wife and his friend, asks their leaders, Tom and Samuel, to come to his house the next day.


Scene 1. Renato’s study

Renato is adamant that Amelia must die, despite her assurances that her love for the governor is innocent. She begs to see her son for the last time, and he sends her out, turning bitterly to the portrait of the governor on the wall and blaming him for having seduced Amelia.

Tom and Samuel arrive, and Renato assures them that he does not wish to denounce them, but rather to join them, and even to be allowed to be the one to kill the governor. When they insist on their prior claims, he suggests they draw lots.

Amelia comes in to announce the arrival of Oscar with an invitation from the governor and Renato makes her draw the chosen name. It is his and his fierce joy makes her suspect the worst.

Oscar delivers the invitation to a masked ball. Amelia wishes to decline, but Renato, eager for revenge, accepts for them both. The conspirators agree on a costume and a password (Death) while Amelia tries to think of a way of warning the governor.

Scene 2. The governor’s study

Although in despair at the thought of parting from Amelia, Riccardo forces himself to sign a document sending Renato and Amelia back to England, without even seeing Amelia once more to say farewell.

Oscar brings a letter from a veiled lady warning Riccardo not to attend the ball, as his life is in danger. Refusing to run the risk of being thought a coward and resolving to see Amelia once more, he decides to attend the ball.

Scene 3. A vast and richly decorated ballroom

The ball is in progress and the conspirators search in vain for Riccardo until Oscar, persuaded by Renato that his business is urgent, describes the governor’s costume. Amelia, disguised, tries to warn Riccardo, but he recognises her and tells her that he has resolved to send her away with her husband. They bid each other farewell as Renato stabs the governor.

Riccardo restrains the crowd from taking vengeance and tells the now remorseful Renato that his wife is innocent and that he had planned to send them away. He dies, forgiving his enemies.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.