Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of Un ballo in maschera. It was last on stage 18 December 2014—17 January 2015 as part of the Winter 2014/15 season.
Riccardo is a leader loved by his people but surrounded by conspirators. He also nurses a secret shame: he adores Amelia, the wife of his closest friend and loyal minister, Renato.
Renato interrupts a meeting between Amelia and Riccardo. Furious, he determines to join a conspiratorial plot to assassinate his master. At a masked ball he stabs Riccardo. With his dying breath Riccardo forgives Renato and assures him of Amelia's innocence.
Giuseppe Verdi set aside his project of adapting King Lear – never to be completed – to create the opera that would eventually become Un ballo in maschera. He selected a pre-existing libretto by Eugène Scribe (originally created for French composer Daniel Auber) on the story of the reformist Swedish king Gustav III, who was assassinated at a masked ball in 1792. The subject was not at all to the taste of the notoriously prickly censors in Naples, who in addition to wanting the setting and period changed demanded that the murder take place offstage. Verdi angrily refused, and sought another theatre to stage the work. The considerably more liberal Teatro Apollo in Rome still insisted a fictional setting be used; Verdi had little choice but to relent, and transformed King Gustav into Riccardo, governor of Boston. The opera was first performed on 17 February 1859 and was an immediate success.
Verdi's music for Un ballo in maschera is some of his most sophisticated and subtle, marrying the opulence of French grand opera (a style he had refined in Les Vêpres siciliennes and Don Carlos) with innovative developments in Italian opera. German director Katharina Thoma (Ariadne auf Naxos, Glyndebourne) makes her Royal Opera debut with this new production.
News and features
3 February 2016
Drinking songs such as La traviata’s famous Brindisi are just the start of opera's songs describing action.
21 May 2015
The composer of La traviata, Macbeth and Otello consolidated and innovated the opera of his time.
5 January 2015
Composers have often looked to the real world for operatic inspiration – though their real-life subjects often undergo some operatization on their way to the stage.
19 December 2014
The Maltese tenor on the power of the art form, and how he portrays strong emotions on stage.
19 December 2014
What did you think of Katharina Thoma's production of Verdi's thrilling tragedy?
18 December 2014
Verdi uses traditional Italian form to create a duet of drama and soaring romance that celebrates the power of the human voice.
Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball) is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with text by Antonio Somma. However, Somma's libretto was itself based on the five act libretto which playwright Eugène Scribe had written for Daniel Auber's 1833 opera, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. Scribe wrote about the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden who was killed as the result of a political conspiracy against him. He was shot while attending a masked ballroom dance and died 13 days later of his wounds. It was to take over two years between the time of the commission from Naples and planned for a production there and its premiere performance at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on 17 February 1859. In order to become the Un ballo in maschera which we know today, Verdi's opera (and his libretto) was forced to undergo a significant series of transformations and title changes. Based on the Scribe libretto and begun as Gustavo III set in Sweden, it became Una vendetta in dominò set in Germany, and finally Un ballo, set not in Sweden but in Boston, Massachusetts during the colonial era. These changes were caused by a combination of censorship regulations in both Naples and Rome, as well as by the political situation in France in January 1858. It became one of the most frustrating experiences of Verdi's career. From the mid-20th century, it has become more common for the setting to revert to its original 18th-century Stockholm location. A re-creation of the original Gustavo III has been staged in Sweden.