Opera Profile: Verdi’s ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’

By David Salazar

Throughout his career Verdi had to deal with the censors and their efforts to hinder his operas.

Nowhere was this more prominent than in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” which premiered on Feb. 17, 1859.

The work was originally entitled “Gustavo III,” but Verdi had to change the setting from Sweden to Boston and change the character of King Gustav III of Sweden to Riccardo, a governor of the North American colony. Safe to say, it wasn’t always well-received and modern productions tend to reverse the trend. For the purposes of this article, we will call him Gustavo.

Short Plot Summary

Gustavo is preparing a masked ball. His friend Renato warns him of a murderous plot against him, but he pays no attention. Instead he is concerned about being in love with Renato’s wife Amelia. A petition comes to get rid of the witch Ulrica. Gustavo decides to go to her lair to see if she is doing any wrong.

At Ulrica’s, Gustavo sees Amelia seeking advice. She is told to pick a flower at a graveyard to forget the forbidden love she has. Gustavo, dressed as a fisherman, asks to have his fortune told. Ulrica obliges and tells him that the next man to shake his hand will kill him. Gustavo laughs it off and eventually shakes hands with Renato, who shows up later. All hail the King and he pardons the witch.

Gustavo meets with Amelia in the graveyard and declares his love. She does the same. Suddenly Renato appears to warn Gustavo of a murderous plot coming his way. Gustavo escapes but asks Renato to take the lady back home without removing her veil. He agrees.

Renato runs into the conspirators who threaten to kill him. Amelia reveals her true identity leading to the jeers of the conspirators and the fury of Renato who asks them to meet at his home.

Amelia begs for clemency from her husband and he allows her to see their child. He opts for murdering Gustavo. Two conspirators arrive and they plot the murder at the masked ball. Renato is picked to commit the act.

At the ball, Gustavo decides to let Amelia and Renato return to England so as to avoid damaging Amelia’s reputation. At the ball, she warns him of the incoming murder but is too late. Gustavo is murdered by Renato but forgives all during his last moments.

Famous Musical Numbers

The opera is replete with famed numbers, whether they be the famous arias for the three leads or the numerous ensembles.

Renato’s “Eri tu” is undeniably the touchstone aria of the work, but Amelia’s own “Morrò, ma prima in grazia” is known for its cello accompaniment. Meanwhile the opera boasts two magnificent quintets and a major choral ensemble to finish off the opera.

Other Articles on “Un Ballo in Maschera” on OperaWire:

Watch and Listen

Here is one of the most famous performances of the 20th century featuring Plácido Domingo as Gustavo, Katia Ricciarelli as Amelia, and Piero Cappuccilli as Renato under the baton of Claudio Abbaddo.


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