Opera in four acts (six scenes)
Libretto by A. Somma and F. Piave based on E. Skrib’s story
Count Richard, Governor of Boston
Renato, his secretary
Amelia, wife of Renato
Ulrika, the Witch
Oscar, page of Count
The Count’s enemies
Servant of Amelia
HISTORY OF CREATION
In 1857, in search of a libretto for a new opera, Verdi turned to the play of French playwright E. Scribe (1791-1861) “Gustav III of Sweden”, which was based on a true historical fact. The murder of the Swedish King Gustav III in 1772 at a masquerade ball by the representative of the noble opposition, the head of the Guard, Count Ankarstrem, was arbitrarily interpreted in a romantic spirit. The motives for personal jealousy, mysterious premonitions (the prediction of the witch Ulrika), the struggle between love and duty – all this impoverished the ideological content of the drama. The play at this time was in Rome in the performance of one of the dramatic troupes. In 1832, the five-act opera Obera “Gustav III, or the Masquerade Ball” was staged in Paris, the libretto for which the playwright himself wrote on his play. However, it did not meet the intentions of Verdi, who wanted to create a work that is politically relevant, close to the Italian people, who fought for their independence. The composer proposed Antonio Somma (1810-1863), a Venetian lawyer and writer, author of a number of dramatic works, to write a new libretto on the drama of Scribe. On January 14, 1858, when
The theater management, wishing to compel the composer to reconcile with the libretto imposed on him, tried to arrest him until he remade the opera or pay a penalty. In response Verdi sued. When Neapolitans learned about this, an outcry rose in the city that King Ferdinand II ordered the case to be stopped and the composer allowed to leave Naples. However, the opera still had to be remade.
The action was transferred from Sweden to North America, King Gustav became the British governor of Boston by Count Richard Warwick, his murderer Count Ankarstrem turned into Renato’s secretary. Some motivations have changed, which somewhat muffled the political sound of the work – the personal drama of the heroes came to the fore. Somme did not consider it possible to subscribe to a libretto distorted in this way. Instead of the librettist’s name of the opera “Ball-masquerade” (as it was now called), the letters NN were put. Later the final revision of the libretto under the direction of the composer was carried out by F. Piave (1810-1876).
The premiere of the “Ball-Masquerade” took place on February 17, 1859 in the Roman theater of Apollo. The success was enormous, thanks to the remarkable merits of Verdi’s music.
Currently, when staged on the Soviet stage, the opera is transferred either to Italy at the beginning of the 17th century or to Sweden in the eighteenth century.
The music of the opera is lively, beautiful and rich in melodies, expressive of orchestral colors. The action abounds in bright contrasts: gloomy scenes are replaced by joyful ones, a dramatic denouement takes place against the background of the ball. The composer made extensive use of song and dance genres, which gave the music a special expressiveness. Verdi’s dramatic artistry was most fully manifested in the excellent choral and ensemble scenes.
Overture is built on two opposing leitmotifs – the lyrical theme of Richard’s love and the ominously sounding “prickly” theme of the conspirators.
The first act is framed by choral scenes. In the center of it – the aria-characteristics of the main characters. Richard’s aria “Again, I will flash it”, built on the leitmotif of love, draws a charming, enthusiastic and sincere image of a young lover. It is full of nobility arioso Renato “Clothed with power”, written in the bolero rhythm. Ballad Oscar “With her star at the same time” sounds fun and carefree.
Gloomy character is the orchestral introduction to the second act. Ulrike’s spell “King of Darkness Underground” is ominous and majestic. The sad appeal of Amelia to the sorceress “I want to forget” with its intonations resembles a domestic romance. In the tercet, the wide melodic chant of the parties of Amelia and Richard is intertwined with the short recitative remarks of the witch. Romantically elevated barcarol Richard “The wave will not change me in the gray-haired sea” is complemented by the musical portrait of the Count, given in the first act, with new features – courage, courage, youthful enthusiasm. The carelessness of Richard, who does not believe in the prediction, the trembling of conspirators who fear disclosure, Oscar’s fear and confusion, Ulrike’s surprise is conveyed in the quintet.
In the third act, a large orchestra prelude draws an old cemetery, expresses feelings that excite Amelia. Very expressive is her monologue “Here is that place”, evolving from a calm sadness to a tense, desperate drama. The great dialogue between Richard and Amelia is rich in contrasts: short exclamations, entreaties of terrified Amelia, the moving, melancholy melody of Richard’s passionate confession, the poetically lofty lyrics of the final section lead to a dramatic tercet (Amelia, Richard and Renato). The finale of the act is magnificent: the mocking remarks of the conspirators emphasize the despair of Amelia, the wrath and bitterness of Renato.
In the first picture of the fourth act stands out the tragic aria Renato “You broke my heart to me” and the quintet in which the vengefulness of the conspirators and Renato and the grief of Amelia is contrasted with Oscar’s carelessness.
The second picture of the fourth act is Richard’s monologue; in the orchestra the theme of love is repeated.
The final picture of the opera is a brilliant ball. Oscar’s song “We Hide It” is an elegant waltz full of naive wickedness. The farewell duet of Amelia and Richard, written in the rhythm of the minuet, is deeply dramatic. In the final ensemble, almost all the characters of the opera participate: Richard, parting with life, gripped by Renato’s remorse, deeply mourning Amelia and Oscar, shocked by the magnanimity of the Count conspirators.