A Masked Ball, Opera by G. Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi may not have deliberately courted controversy, but he was not a man to shy away from it either. La Traviata, which had scandalised audiences by casting a courtesan as its heroine, had only just squeezed past the censor’s eye. But A Masked Ball (Un ballo in maschera), with its proposed depiction of a royal assassination based on the murder in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden, was just one step too far for the authorities.
In all, more than two years passed between Verdi’s original commission from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, which he gave up on, to Un ballo in maschera’s premiere, on 17 February 1859, at Rome's Teatro Apollo. By that time, the opera’s setting, in order to be approved, had been removed from the recent history of eighteenth-century Scandinavia to a fictional palace in seventeenth-century colonial Boston.
Now the Wiener Staatsoper presents a version of the opera that reinstates the King of Sweden at the centre of the drama. Refusing to heed the warnings of his closest confidant, Count Anckarström, that there is a plot to assassinate him, Gustav’s affair with Anckarström’s wife, Amelia, draws his friend into the conspiracy.
What mattered most to Verdi was not an accurate depiction of the past, but the opportunity that a real-life event gave him to intensify the emotional impact of his music. And there can be no better example of the composer’s genius than the duet “Teco io sto” sung by Gustav and Amelia, in which Verdi achieves the perfect marriage between the characters’ melodies and the meaning of their words.