Un ballo in maschera Synopsis

The Story of Verdi's 3 Act Opera

Giuseppi Verdi
Giuseppi Verdi (1813-1901).

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Premiered: February 17, 1859

Setting of Un ballo in maschera:
Verdi's Un ballo in maschera takes place in Sweden in 1792, but due to the opera's controversies and censorship, it is often set in 17th century Boston, Massachusetts.

Other Popular Opera Synopses:
Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Mozart's The Magic Flute, Verdi's Rigoletto, & Puccini's Madama Butterfly

The Story of Un ballo in maschera

Un ballo in maschera, ACT 1

* Original character names are shown in parentheses.
Inside his palace, Riccardo (King Gustav III) reviews the list of attendees for his upcoming masquerade. As he pours over his list, he is delighted to see the name of the woman he loves, Amelia (Amelia). However, she is the wife of his most trusted advisor, Renato (Anckarström). Riccardo sets the list down when Renato enters the room. Renato warns Riccardo that there is a group of people conspiring against him. Riccardo gives no heed to Renato's warnings. Moments later, the young page Oscar enters bringing news that Ulrica, a fortune-teller, has been accused of witchcraft. Oscar defends her, but others call for her banishment. Riccardo takes matters into his own hands, and along with the court, sets out for Ulrica's house in disguise to make his own judgment.

Outside of Ulrica's cottage, Riccardo, disguised as a fisherman, eavesdrops. Ulrica summons her magic and tells a fortune to a sailor named Silvano (Cristiano). She tells Silvano that he will soon become wealthy due to a promotion. As Silvano exits, Riccardo stealthily puts a note of promotion and some gold in Silvano's pocket. When Silvano discovers his fortune, he rejoices and the townsfolk become more convinced of Ulrica's abilities. Then, Amelia enters the cottage. Not to be seen, Riccardo quickly hides. Amelia confesses to Ulrica that she is tormented by her secret love of Riccardo. Asking for peace, Ulrica tells Amelia to venture outdoors at night to find a magic herb that grows by the gallows. Riccardo decides to meet Amelia there later that evening. After Amelia leaves, Riccardo takes a moment to get his fortune told. Along with Oscar and the rest of his court, Riccardo speaks to Ulrica. She tells him that he will die at the hand of his own friend. He laughs off the prophecy before asking her who his killer will be. She replies that the next person to shake his hand will be his killer. Riccardo goes around the room and mockingly tries to shake the hands of his friends, but everyone refuses to shake his hand. Unexpectedly, Renato enters and greets Riccardo with a handshake. Riccardo happily boasts that Ulrica is wrong because Renato is his most loyal friend. At that moment, Riccardo's true identity becomes known and the townspeople marvel and exalt him.

Un ballo in maschera, ACT 2

Amelia desperately searches for the magical herb as she prays for her love of Riccardo to be vanquished. Soon, Riccardo arrives. Unable to control their love, they embrace and share a passionate kiss. Suddenly, Renato arrives, interrupting them. Before she is recognized, Amelia covers her face with her veil. Renato tells Riccardo that the conspirators are out to kill him. Riccardo commands Renato to escort the lady to safety, but he mustn't remove her veil. After Renato promises to follow his orders, they depart and Riccardo disappears into the darkness. Before Renato and Amelia reach the town, they are confronted by the conspirators. In their struggle, Amelia realizes that her husband will fight the rebels to death before he disobeys his king's command. Hoping to save his life, Amelia deliberately loosens her veil and lets it fall to the ground. At that moment, the rebels stop fighting and begin mocking Renato for his wife's infidelity. Full of rage, Renato asks the conspirators' two leaders, Samuel and Tom (Count Ribbing and Count Horn) for a meeting the next morning. Samuel and Tom agree to meet with Renato.

Un ballo in maschera, ACT 3

In Amelia and Renato's home, Renato and Amelia argue. He threatens to kill her for the shame she has brought upon him. She pleads her innocence but finally concedes. She asks to see her son one last time before she dies and runs out of the room. Renato realizes it is Riccardo he must kill instead. When Samuel and Tom arrive, Renato asks to join their conspiracy. They allow him into their group. He tells them that he plans to kill the king. To decide who will commit the murder, they draw names from a container. Amelia returns and Renato has her draw the name. When she picks Renato's name, he couldn't be more joyful. Their meeting is interrupted briefly when Oscar brings an invitation to the masquerade. After he departs, the men begin to plot their mission to kill the king during the ball.

In his room before the masquerade, Riccardo contemplates his actions as king and decides between love or his royal duties. He finally decides to give up love and send Amelia and Renato away. Oscar arrives with a note, secretly written by Amelia, warning the king of his death. Again, Riccardo gives no credence to the threat and heads down to the ballroom.

In the ballroom, Renato asks Oscar what Riccardo will be wearing. After refusing multiple times, he finally confesses what the king will look like and Renato hastily departs. Riccardo searches the room and spots Amelia. As he tells her of his decision, he is stabbed from behind by Riccardo. As the king draws his last breaths, he tells Renato that though he did love Amelia, she never broke her marriage vows. He forgives Renato and the rest of the conspirators before dying; the townspeople praise him once more.