A Masked Ball (Un ballo in maschera) synopsis
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Antonio Somma after Eugène Scribe’s libretto Gustave III
First performed: 1859
A group of politicians waiting for the King includes both his supporters and a number of malcontents, led by Count Ribbing and Count Horn, who are plotting the King’s assassination. When Oscar, the King’s assistant, shows him the list of guests for his planned masked ball, he is excited to see the name of Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor Anckarstroem. Nobody knows of his secret love; and Anckarstroem interprets his moodiness as a justified fear of conspiracy. Gustavus refuses to listen to Anckarstroem’s warnings, preferring to trust in the love of his people to protect him.
The Minister of Justice arrives, demanding that the King take action against Madame Arvidson, a notorious brothel-keeper. Oscar gives a spirited defence of the woman, which prompts the King to propose that they all visit Arvidson in disguise.
Madame Arvidson, surrounded by women, performs a satanic ritual. The King arrives in disguise to watch. When Arvidson prophesies a change of fortune for a young sailor, the King instantly creates a commission for him.
Gustavus is amazed when Amelia herself arrives. She has come to ask Madame Arvidson’s advice about her guilty love for the King. Arvidson tells her to pick a herb at midnight in an ‘execution ground’. When she agrees to go, Gustavus, who has spied on their interview, decides that he will meet her there.
The politicians and Oscar arrive in disguise, and taunt Arvidson. Not knowing their leader to be Gustavus, she predicts his death. His murderer will be the next person to shake his hand. Anckarstroem, arriving later, greets the King, and so seems to contradict the prophecy, particularly since it is only now that Arvidson recognizes her guest. She continues to warn him against conspiracy, but Gustavus ignores her.
It is night in a place of execution. Amelia has come to find the herb, and is tormented by a conflict between love and duty. She is astonished when the King appears and declares his love for her. Although she emphasizes that she is married to his closest friend, in the end she has to admit that she returns his love.
Anckarstroem surprises them together, but does not recognize his wife. He has followed the King, aware of the risks that he is constantly taking. The conspirators are approaching. Anckarstroem persuades Gustavus to escape, while he wards off the conspirators, and keeps guard over the unknown woman. Gustavus agrees, on condition his friend respect the woman’s anonymity.
The conspirators apprehend the people they take to be Gustavus and his new love. Discovering Anckarstroem, they try to force him to reveal the woman’s identity. Amelia, terrified by the threat to her husband, reveals who she is. Anckarstroem is appalled. As the conspirators leave, full of laughter at his expense, he asks Ribbing and Horn to come to his house the next day.
In Anckarstroem’s house, he prepares to kill Amelia in revenge for her adulterous affair with the King. She begs to say a last goodbye to her son. Left alone, Anckarstroem turns his anger against Gustavus. When Ribbing and Horn arrive, he asks to join their conspiracy, and even forces Amelia to choose by lot the name of the man who will strike the death blow. It is his own. Oscar brings an invitation to the masked ball at the palace. Everything, it appears, is ready for the planned assassination.
Gustavus has decided to send Anckarstroem and Amelia away from his court. Oscar attempts to warn Gustavus of the plot, but he is determined to use the party as a chance to see Amelia one last time.
At the party, Anckarstroem extracts from Oscar the vital information about the King’s costume. Amelia also identifies Gustavus, but cannot persuade him to leave the party. When Anckarstroem commits the planned murder, Gustavus uses his dying words to protest Amelia’s innocence and pardon his friend. The people express their love for the murdered King.
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