Un Ballo in Maschera

Music of Yesterday

Lyric Drama in five acts by Guiseppe Verdi Text by Piave

The libretto is almost identical with Auber’s “Ballo in Maschera”, which follows.

Count Richard, governor of Boston, is adored by the people but hated by the noblemen, who resolve upon his death. He loves Amelia, the wife of his secretary and best friend Rene, who in vain tries to warn him of the plots of his enemies, but who faithuflly watches over his safety.

As old sorceress of negro blook, Ulrica, is to be banished by the decree of the high judgge, but Richard’s page Oscar speaks in her favor, and the Count decides to see her himself and test her tricks. He invites his lords ot accompany him to the sibyl’s dwelling, and orders Oscar to bring him a fisherman’s disguise. His enemies, Samuel and Tom, follow him.

The second act shows Ulrica in her cottage seated at a table, conjuring Satan. A crowd of people are around her, among them Richard in disguise. A sailor, Sylvan, advances frist to hear his fate, and while Ulrica is prophesying that better days await him, Richard slips a roll of gold with a scroll into Sylvan’s pocket and so makes the witch’s words true. Sylvan, searching in his pockets, finds the gold and reads the inscription on the scroll: “Richard to his dear officer Sylvan”, and all break out into loud praises of the clever sybil.

A short while after a servant announces Amelia, and the sorceress, driving the crowd away, ushers her in, while Richard conceals himself. He listens with delight to the confessin of her sinful love for himself, against which she asks for a dreaught, which might enable her to banish it from her heart. Ulrica advises her to pluck a magic herb at midnight, which grows in the fileds where the criminals are executed. Ameliashudders but promises to do as she is bidden, while Richard secretly vows to follow and protect her. Amelia departs and the people flock in again. Richard is the first to ask what is his fate. The sibyl reluctantly tells him that his life is to be destroyed by the first person who shall touch his hand on this very day. Richard vainly offers his hand to the bystanders, they all recoil from him, when suddenly his friend Rene comes in, and heartily shakes Richards’ outstretched hand. This seems to break the spell, for everybody knows Rene to be the Count’s dearest friend, and now believes the oracle to be false. Nevertheless Ulrica, who only now recognizes the Count, warns him once more against his enemies, but he laughs at her, and shows the sorceress the verdict of her banishment, which, however, he has cancelled. Full of gratitude Ulrica joins in the universal song of praise, sung by the people to their faithful leader.

The third act opens on the ghostly fieldwhere Amelia is to look for the magic herb. She is frozen with horror, believing that she sees a ghost rise before her. Richard now turns up, and breaks out into passionate words, entreating her to acknowledge her love for him. She does so, but implores him at the same time not to approach her, and to remain true to his friend. While they speak Rene surprises them. He has followed Richard to save him from his enemies, who are waiting to kill him. Richard wraps himself in his friend’s cloak, after having taken Rene’s promise to lead the veiled lady to the gates of the town without trying to look at her. Rene swears, but fate wills it otherwise, for hardly has Richard departed, when the conspirators throng in, and enrages at finding only the friend, try to tear the veil off the lady’s face. Rene guards her with his sword, but Amelia springing between the assailants lets fall her veil, and reveals her face to her husband and to the astonished men, thereby bringing shame and bitter mockery on them both. Rene, believing himself betrayed by wife and friend, asks the conspirators to meet him in his own house on the following morning, and swears to avenge the supposed treachery.

In the fourth act in his own house Rene bids his wife prepare herself for death. He disbelieves in her portest of innocence, but at length, touched by her misery, he allows her to take a last farewell of her son. When she is gone, he resolves rather to kill the seducer than his poor weak wife. Wehn the conspirators enter he astonishes them by his knowledge of their dark designs, but they wonder still more when he offers to join them in their evil purpose. As they do not agree who it shall be that is to kill Richard, Rene makes his wife draw the lot from a vase on the table. The chosen one is her own husband. At this moment Oscar enters with an invitation to a masked ball from the court. Renen accepts, and the conspirators decide to seize the opportunity to put their foe to death. They are to wear blue dominos with red ribbons. Their password is “death”.

The next scene shows a richly decorated ballroom. Rene vainly tries to find out the Count’s disguise, until it is betrayed to him by the page, who believes that Rene wants to have some fun with his master. Amelia, waylaying Richard, implores him to fly, and when he disbelieves her warnings, shows him her face. When he recognizes her, he tenderly takes her hand, and tells her that he too has resolved to conquer his passion, and that he is sending her away to England with her husband. They are taking a last farewell, but alas! fate overtakes Richard in the shape of Rene, who runs his dagger through him. The crowd tries to arrest the murderer, but the dying Count waves them back, and with his last breath tells his unhappy friend that his wife is innocent. Drawing forth a document and handing it to Rene, the unfortunate man reads the Count’s order to send them to their native land. Richard pardns his misguided friend and dies with a blessing on his beloved country.

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