“Il Ballo in Maschera,” or “The Masked Ball,” an opera in three acts with music by Verdi and text by M. Somma, was first produced in Rome at the Teatro Apollo, Feb. 17, 1859.
Richard, Count of Warwick and Governor of Boston. Reinhart, secretary to the governor. Amelia, wife of Reinhart. Ulrica, a negress astrologer. Oscar, a page. Sylvan, a sailor. Samuel, enemies of the Count. Tom, A judge. A servant.
Richard, Governor of Boston, is in love with Amelia, wife of his friend and secretary, Reinhart. As he broods over this unhappy state of affairs he is approached by the loyal Reinhart who warns him that his life is threatened by conspirators, but he dismisses the matter with characteristic lightness. A petition is brought to him for the banishment of Ulrica, a negress who practices sorcery and, in order to give personal investigation to the case, he disguises himself and visits the squalid cabin where a witch’s caldron steams over a tripod. He overhears Amelia begging the witch to give her some potion capable of dispelling the unlawful love which fills her heart and realizes with mixed emotions that the love is for him. Ulrica recommends an herb which grows in the gallows-field where criminals are executed and informs her that it will be potent only if she gathers it alone and at night. Richard remains after Amelia has crept shudderingly away and gives Ulrica his own palm for the revelation of its secrets. She tells him that death is in store for him and that his assassination is to be by the sword of him who next touches his hand in apparent friendship. In contempt of the oracle, he offers his hand to each of his courtiers but all shrink from it. At this moment Reinhart enters and the Governor grasps his hand, while all breathe a sigh of relief, for they are sure no harm can ever come to him from a friend as tried and true as his secretary.
The second act is played in the ghastly field where Amelia goes to dig the herb which shall cure her of her love. Once she sees a figure appear in the uncertain light of the moon and in terror fancies a ghost is rising before her. She may well tremble, for it is Richard who has followed her from the town. Earnestly she beseeches him to leave but he forgets that he has come to protect her and entreats her to acknowledge her love for him which she weakly does. They are suddenly confronted by Reinhart, who having discovered that the conspirators are on the Governor’s track, has come to warn him. He beseeches him to fly but Richard refuses to go unless Reinhart will pledge himself to conduct his deeply veiled companion to the gates without attempting to discover her identity. He promises but is overtaken by the conspirators, who think Reinhart is the Governor. Showing them their mistake, he chides them for their perfidy and they insist upon snatching the veil from his companion’s face. As he is about to defend her with his sword she reveals herself and his love for the Governor dies a sudden death.
On the next day, Reinhart goes over heart and soul to the conspirators, overcoming their doubts of his sincerity by offering his little son as hostage. All wish to strike the coveted blow and it is finally decided to leave it to chance. Amelia is made the instrument. She is asked to draw a name from a vase and has the misfortune to draw her husband’s. It is planned to kill the Governor at the masked ball which he gives that evening at his mansion. Amelia, learning of this, manages to have a warning conveyed to him. With his usual reckless courage, however, he appears, hoping to obtain a last glimpse of her. He has resolved to send her back to England with her husband, whom he has arranged to commission handsomely. As he steals a word under cover of their disguises, the jealous husband rushes between them and stabs him. With his dying breath, the Governor attests the wife’s innocence and bids farewell to his beloved country.
The subject of the opera is the same as that of Auber’s ” Gustavus III.,” which represents the assassination of the King of Sweden at a masked ball. When Verdi began to prepare for its production in Naples, the police interfered upon the ground that it would be injudicious, owing to the recent attack of Orsini upon Napoleon III. Verdi hotly refused to adapt his music to other words, but later the impresario of the Teatro Apollo in Rome suggested changes in the libretto which made possible the production of the opera. The scene was transferred to Boston, Mass., the Swedish King was transformed into a British governor and the conspirators into Royalists and Puritans.
The score, while not the greatest of Verdi’s achievements, contains several numbers of distinct beauty. Among them are Richard’s song, ” La rivedra nell’ estasi ” (” I shall behold her “) ; Reinhart’s aria, ” Di speranze e glorie piena ” (” For thy life “) ; the song of Oscar the page, “Volta la terrea ” (” Fain would I plead “) ; the witch’s music and Richard’s barcarole, ” Di’ tu se fedele ” (” Oh tell me “).
In Act II occur Amelia’s dramatic aria, sung on the murderer’s field, “Ma dall arido” (“This is the dreaded place”); the love duet following upon the arrival of Richard, “M’ami, m’ami” (“Love me ! Love me!”). In Act III are Amelia’s song, “Morro, ma prima in grazia” (” Only one word more to thee “) and Reinhart’s song, “O dolcezzo perdute” (” O ye hours”).