Gustavus The Third


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.

r /> 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.