Gustavus The Third
BALLO IN MASCHERA
In five acts by AUBER.
Text by SCRIBE.
This opera has had a curious fate, its historical background having
excited resistance and given rise to scruples. The murder of a king
was not thought a fit subject for an opera, and so the libretto was
altered and spoilt.
The Italians simply changed the names and the scene of action; Verdi
composed a new opera from the same matter and succeeded admirably;
nevertheless Auber's composition is preferred in Germany, Scribe's
libretto being by far the better, while the music is original and
vivacious as well as full of pleasant harmony and fine instrumentation.
The scene is laid in Stockholm in the year 1792. Gustavus the Third,
King of Sweden, loves the wife of his friend and counsellor Ankarstroem,
and is loved in return, both struggling vainly against this sinful
passion. Ankarstroem has detected a plot against the King's life, and
warning him, asks that the traitor be punished, but Gustavus refuses to
listen, trusting in his people and in his friend's fidelity. His
minister Kaulbart desires him to condemn a sorceress named Arvedson,
who is said to be able at will by means of certain herbs and potions to
cause persons to love or hate each other. The king refuses to banish
the woman unheard and decides to visit her. Ankarstroem tries to
dissuade, but the King insists, and accordingly goes to Arvedson in
disguise. During the witch's conjuration Malwina, his lady-love
appears, who seeks help from the sorceress against her forbidden
passion. The concealed King hears Arvedson tell her to go at midnight
and gather a herb, which grows on the graves of criminals, and
triumphant in his knowledge of Malwina's confessed love, Gustavus
decides to follow her there.
When she has gone, he mockingly orders the witch to tell him his
fortune, and hears from her that he shall be killed by the man, who
first tenders him his hand. Just then Ankarstroem who comes to protect
the King against his enemy, enters and they shake hands.
In the third act Malwina meets the King on the dismal spot, to which
she had been directed, but Ankarstroem, whose watchful fidelity never
suffers him to be far from the King, and who is utterly ignorant of the
deception being practised upon him, saves the lovers from further
guilt. After a severe conflict with himself, Gustavus consents to fly
in his friend's cloak, Ankarstroem having pledged his honor not to ask
the veiled lady's secret, and to conduct her safely back to the city.
This plan is frustrated by the conspirators, who rush in and are about
to attack the Count. Malwina throws herself between him and the
combatants, and the husband then recognizes in the King's companion his
own wife. Full of indignation he turns from her and joins the
conspirators, promising to be one of them.
He swears to kill his unhappy wife, but not until another has first
In the fourth act the conspirators have a meeting in Ankarstroem's
house, where they decide to murder the King. The lots being cast, the
duty to strike the death-blow falls on Ankarstroem, and Malwina herself
draws the fatal paper. At this moment an invitation to a masked ball
is brought by the King's page Oscar, and the conspirators resolve to
take advantage of this opportunity for the execution of their design.
In the last act the King, happy to know Malwina safe from discovery,
resolves to sacrifice his love to honor and friendship. He is about to
give Ankarstroem the proof of his friendship, by naming him
governor of Finland, and the minister is to depart with his wife on the
morning after the ball. Meanwhile the King is warned by a missive from
an unknown hand, not to appear at the ball, but he disregards it. He
meets Malwina at the ball. His page, thinking to do the King a
service, has betrayed his mask to Ankarstroem. Malwina warns the
prince, but in vain, for while he presents her with the paper, which is
to send her and her husband to their own beloved country, Ankarstroem
shoots him through the heart. Gustavus dies, pardoning his murderer.
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