Ballo In Maschera
CCHAOTER Lyric Drama
In five acts by VERDI.
Text by F. M. PIAVE.
Auber's success with the opera of the same name inspired Verdi to try
his hand at it too. He ordered his friend Piave to write the libretto
for him and in 1854 the opera was handed to the San Carlo theatre in
Naples, but was refused on the ground, that the murder of a king must
not be represented on the stage. Then Verdi laid the scene in Boston,
and in this shape the opera was performed in Rome on Feb. 17th, 1859
and met with great success.
From this time it conquered the stages of Europe, all but one, Auber's
widow having stipulated that no opera rival to that of her husband's
was to be given in Paris. The Ballo in Maschera has been revived in
Dresden in October 1897, after having lain buried for over 15 years;
its success showed, that it is still full of vitality. The music is
exceedingly fresh and characteristic; indeed it surpasses both
Trovatore and Rigoletto in beauty and originality. Verdi has scarcely
ever written anything finer than the Ensemble at the end of the second
act, and the delightful quartette "Is it a jest or madness, that comes
now from her lips."
The libretto may be explained shortly, as it is almost identical with
Auber's "Masked Ball".
Count Richard, governor of Boston is adored by the people but hated by
the noblemen, who resolve upon his death. He loves Amelia, the
wife of his secretary and best friend Rene, who in vain tries to warn
him of the plots of his enemies, but who faithfully watches over his
An old sorceress of negro blood Ulrica, is to be banished by the decree
of the high Judge, but Richard's page Oscar speaks in her favour, and
the count decides to see her himself and test her tricks. He invites
his lords to accompany him to the sybil's dwelling, and orders Oscar to
bring him a fisherman's disguise. His enemies Samuel and Tom follow
The second act shows Ulrica in her cottage seated at a table conjuring
Satan. A crowd of people are around her, amongst them Richard in
disguise. A sailor Sylvan advances first to hear his fate, and while
Ulrica is prophesying that better days await him, Richard slips a roll
of gold with a scroll into Sylvan's pocket and so makes the witch's
words true. Sylvan searching in his pockets finds the gold and reads
the inscription on the scroll: "Richard to his dear officer Sylvan",
and all break out into loud praises of the clever sybil.
A short while after a servant announces Amelia, and the sorceress
driving the crowd away ushers her in, while Richard conceals himself.
He listens with delight to the confession of her sinful love to
himself, against which she asks for a draught, which might enable her
to banish it from her heart. Ulrica advises her to pluck a magic herb
at midnight, which grows in the field where the criminals are executed.
Amelia shudders but promises to do as she is bidden, while Richard
secretly vows to follow and protect her. Amelia departs and the
people flock in again. Richard is the first to ask what is his fate.
The sybil reluctantly tells him that his life is to be destroyed by the
first person who shall touch his hand on this very day. Richard vainly
offers his hand to the bystanders, they all recoil from him, when
suddenly his friend Rene comes in, and heartily shakes Richard's
outstretched hand. This seems to break the spell, for everybody knows
Rene to be the count's dearest friend, and now believes the oracle to
be false. Nevertheless Ulrica, who only now recognizes the count,
warns him once more against his enemies, but he laughs at her, and
shows the sorceress the verdict of her banishment, which however he has
cancelled. Full of gratitude Ulrica joins in the universal song of
praise, sung by the people to their faithful leader.
The third act opens on the ghostly field where Amelia is to look for
the magic herb. She is frozen with horror believing that she sees a
ghost rise before her; Richard now turns up, and breaks out into
passionate words, entreating her to acknowledge her love for him. She
does so, but implores him at the same time, not to approach her, and to
remain true to his friend. While they speak Rene surprises them. He
has followed Richard to save him from his enemies, who are waiting to
kill him. Richard wraps himself in his friend's cloak, after having
taken Rene's promise to lead the veiled lady to the gates of the town,
without trying to look at her. Rene swears, but fate wills it
otherwise, for hardly has Richard departed, when the conspirators
throng in, and enraged at finding only the friend, try to tear the veil
off the lady's face. Rene guards her with his sword, but Amelia
springing between the assailers lets fall her veil, and reveals her
face to her husband and to the astonished men, thereby bringing shame
and bitter mockery on them both. Rene, believing himself betrayed by
wife and friend, asks the conspirators to meet him in his own house on
the following morning, and swears to avenge the supposed treachery.
In the fourth act in his own house Rene bids his wife prepare herself
for death. He disbelieves in her protest of innocence, but at last,
touched by her misery he allows her to take a last farewell of her son.
When she is gone, he resolves rather to kill the seducer than his poor
weak wife. When the conspirators enter he astonishes them by his
knowledge of their dark designs, but they wonder still more, when he
offers to join them in their evil purpose. As they do not agree, who
it shall be that is to kill Richard, Rene makes his wife draw the lot
from a vase on the table. The chosen one is her own husband.--At this
moment Oscar enters with an invitation to a masked ball from the court.
Rene accepts, and the conspirators decide to seize the opportunity, to
put their foe to death. They are to wear blue dominos with red
ribbons; their pass word is "death."
The next scene shows a richly decorated ballroom. Rene vainly tries to
find out the count's disguise, until it is betrayed to him by the
page who believes that Rene wants to have some fun with his master.
Amelia waylaying Richard implores him, to fly, and when he disbelieves
her warnings, shows him her face. When he recognizes her, he tenderly
takes her hand, and tells her that he too has resolved to conquer his
passion, and that he is sending her away to England with her husband.
They are taking a last farewell, but alas, fate overtakes Richard in
the shape of Rene, who runs his dagger through him. The crowd tries to
arrest the murderer, but the dying count waves them back and with his
last breath tells his unhappy friend, that his wife is innocent.
Drawing forth a document and handing it to Rene the unfortunate man
reads the count's order to send them to their native country. Richard
pardons his misguided friend and dies with a blessing on his beloved
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