Un ballo in maschera - Synopsis

Un ballo in maschera

Un ballo in maschera

Giuseppe Verdi
Antonio Somma


Act One, Scene One

Supporters and opponents of King Gustavo are assembled at the monarch's morning audience. The page Oscar hands his master a list. It contains the names of those invited to a masked ball. Gustavo discovers among them the name of Amelia, in whom he is secretly enamoured, the wife of his long loyal friend, Renato Count Anckarström. When the Count enters, Gustavo believes for a moment that his secret has been discovered. However, Anckarström is unaware of his lord's feelings. Instead he warns the king of a plot. Gustavo is relieved and is not interested in learning who the conspirators are.

The judge presents the king with an order banishing the fortune-teller Ulrica Arvedson. After Oscar's speech in defence of her, Gustavo and his followers decide to visit Ulrica in disguise.


Act One, Scene Two

Surrounded by women, the fortune-teller Ulrica calls on Lucifer for inspiration. Gustavo, disguised as a fisherman, remains unrecognised. Meanwhile a sailor named Christiano has pushed his way forward so as to have his fortune told by Ulrica: after fifteen years he has received no appropriate recognition for his services. Ulrica predicts that he will soon be rich and promoted. Gustavo then secretly slips a role of coin into Christiano's pocket. On it he has noted Christiano's promotion to officer. Ulrica's prophecy is thus fulfilled immediately.

Amelia has sent a servant to request Ulrica for a private meeting. On the pretext of wanting to confer with Lucifer, Ulrica sends away the other visitors and, with Gustavo eavesdropping, receives the despairing Amelia. She hopes to overcome her unrequited love for the king with the help of Ulrica's magic powers. The fortune-teller tells her of a herb that she is to pick at midnight at a place of execution outside the town.

After Amelia has departed, Gustavo wants to know what his future holds. Ulrica foretells his imminent death: whichever of his friends offers him his hand next will murder him. When the unsuspecting Anckarström enters and greets his lord with a handshake and by name, nobody believes that Ulrica's prophecy will be fulfilled.

Gustavo's disguise is now revealed. Christiano summons the people and they pay homage to the king.


Act Two

Amelia has overcome her fear and gone to look for the magic herb at the eerie spot named by Ulrica, the place of execution. Gustavo has secretly followed her and they declare their love for each other. Anckarström appears unexpectedly to warn his friend of the impending assassination attempt. He implores Gustavo to get to safety and exchanges cloaks with him. Gustavo for his part makes Anckarström promise to escort Amelia back to town, who is veiled and has not revealed herself to her husband.

The conspirators stop and provoke Anckarström who draws his sword. Amelia's veil falls; she is recognised. Anckarström, exposed to the scorn of the rebels, summons them to his house for the following day.


Act Three, Scene One

Anckarström feels betrayed by Gustavo and Amelia. He wants to kill his wife and pays no heed to her protestations of innocence. Amelia is prepared to die, but she asks to be allowed to see her son one last time. Anckarström realises that it is really Gustavo on whom he must take revenge.

The conspirators - Count Horn and Count Ribbing - have followed Anckarström's invitation and learn that he wishes to join their conspiracy. Each insists on the right to murder the king. So Anckarström forces the unsuspecting Amelia to draw the name of the murderer out of an urn. His own name is drawn. The invitation to the masked ball delivered by Oscar gives the plotters the opportunity to realise their plan during this festivity.


Act Three, Scene Two

Gustavo has resolved to renounce his claim to Amelia. She is to return home with her husband. Oscar delivers Gustavo an anonymous warning that someone is planning to murder him during the ball. Gustavo decides to go to the ball, so that noone can accuse him of cowardice.

At the masked ball Anckarström succeeds in discovering from Oscar the nature of Gustavo´s disguise. The lovers bid farewell to each other. Anckarström shoots the king. As he dies, he affirms Amelia's innocence and forgives his enemies.

Translation: Christopher Balme

© Bavarian State Opera