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Encyclopedia > Un Ballo in Maschera

Un ballo in maschera, or A Masked Ball, is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi with text by Antonio Somma. The opera's first production was at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, February 17, 1859. The Teatro alla Scala in Milan. ... Giuseppe Verdi, by Giovanni Boldini, 1886 (National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome). ... The Tor di Nona— now a small area in Romes Rione V called Ponte, which lies in the heart of the citys historic center, between the via dei Coronari and the Tiber— commemorates an unregretted mediaeval tower which stood there. ... Nickname: The Eternal City Motto: SPQR: Senatus PopulusQue Romanus Location of the city of Rome (yellow) within the Province of Rome (red) and region of Lazio (grey) Coordinates: Region Lazio Province Province of Rome Founded 21 April 753 BC Mayor Walter Veltroni Area    - City 1,500 km²  (580 sq mi... February 17 is the 48th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1859 (MDCCCLIX) is a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar). ...

The opera is based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, but is not historically accurate. During its composition, Verdi was asked by government censors to make many changes to the opera, due to its politically sensitive subject matter. Gustav III (13 January (O.S.) or (24 January (N.S.) 1746 – March 29, 1792) was King of Sweden from 1771 until his death. ... Censorship is the editing, removing, or otherwise changing speech and other forms of human expression. ...

Despite its tragic conclusion, Un ballo in maschera has many moments of the brilliance and irony associated with comedy -- a mixture which has led critics to label it "Shakespearean." Comedy has a classical meaning (comical theatre) and a popular one (the use of humour with an intent to provoke laughter in general). ...


Genesis of the Opera: Censorship and Contention

In 1792, the King of Sweden, Gustav III, was killed, the result of a political conspiracy against him. He was shot while attending a masked ball and died 13 days later as a result of his wounds. It is on this episode that Verdi’s Masked Ball is loosely based; loosely, because very little of the historical truth is contained in Verdi’s opera. Gustav III (13 January (O.S.) or (24 January (N.S.) 1746 – March 29, 1792) was King of Sweden from 1771 until his death. ...

In 1833, the French playwright Eugène Scribe wrote a play about Gustav called Gustave III. He retained the names of some of the historical figures involved, the conspiracy, and the killing at the masked ball. The rest of the play – the characterizations, the romance, the fortune-telling, etc.—is Scribe’s invention; and it is Scribe’s play that is the source of the story in Verdi’s opera. Augustin Eugène Scribe (December 24, 1791 - February 20, 1861), was a French dramatist and librettist. ...

Scribe’s play was well known and had been used by other composers, including Auber, as the basis for operas. However, the censors were still wary of it, since it showed the assassination of a king in a recent period of European history. During composition, the censors in Naples, for which Verdi’s opera was destined, required extensive changes, eventually demanding more alterations than the composer was willing to make. Therefore, he broke his contract and was sued by the theater, provoking him to lodge a counter-claim against the theater for damages. Eventually, the legal fight ended with withdrawal of the theater's charges, freeing Verdi to offer the opera to the Rome opera house. Daniel François Esprit Auber (January 29, 1782 - May 13, 1871), French composer, the son of a Paris print-seller, was born in Caen in Normandy. ... Censorship is the editing, removing, or otherwise changing speech and other forms of human expression. ... The Bay of Naples Naples (Italian: , Neapolitan: Nàpule, from Greek Νεάπολη < Νέα Πόλις Néa Pólis New City) is the largest city in southern Italy and capital of the Campania region and the Province of Naples. ... Nickname: The Eternal City Motto: SPQR: Senatus PopulusQue Romanus Location of the city of Rome (yellow) within the Province of Rome (red) and region of Lazio (grey) Coordinates: Region Lazio Province Province of Rome Founded 21 April 753 BC Mayor Walter Veltroni Area    - City 1,500 km²  (580 sq mi...

But the Roman censors also wanted to make changes. Finally it was agreed that the setting would be moved from Europe, and the rank of the leading character would be reduced from king to colonial governor. So it was that the setting of the opera is Boston during the British colonial period, and the leading character is Riccardo, the Count (or Earl) of Warwick. Nickname: City on the Hill, Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe)1, Athens of America, The Cradle of Revolution, Puritan City, Americas Walking City Location in Massachusetts, USA Counties Suffolk County Mayor Thomas M. Menino(D) Area    - City 232. ...

In some modern stagings, the original Swedish setting and the original characters’ names are restored.


Riccardo, Count of Warwick (or Gustavo, King of Sweden), friend of Renato, in love with Amelia, his wifetenor
Amelia,wife of Renato, in love with Riccardo, soprano
Renato (or Count Anckarström), husband of Amelia, friend and advisor of Riccardo, baritone
Oscar, page boy, soprano
Ulrica (or Madame Arvidson), a fortune-teller, contralto
A magistrate, tenor
Silvano (or Cristiano), bass
Amelia’s servant, tenor
Samuel (or Count Ribbing), bass
Tom (or Count de Horn), bass
In music, a tenor is a male singer with a high vocal range. ... This article is about singers. ... Baritone (French: baryton; German: Bariton; Italian: baritono) is most commonly the type of male voice that lies between bass and tenor. ... In music, an alto is a singer with a vocal range somewhere between a tenor and a soprano. ... A bass (or basso in Italian) is a male singer who sings in the lowest vocal range of the human voice. ...


Place, Sweden or Boston, Massachusetts.
Time, Sweden: 1792, or Boston: the end of the 17th century.

Nickname: City on the Hill, Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe)1 Location in Massachusetts, USA Counties Suffolk County Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D) Area    - City 232. ... 1792 was a leap year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ... (16th century - 17th century - 18th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 17th century was that century which lasted from 1601-1700. ...


Riccardo is a noble, generous leader, though often high-spirited and impetuous. He is secretly in love with the wife of his closest advisor, Renato. When the secret is revealed, Renato joins the group of conspirators plotting against Riccardo’s life.

Act I.

Scene 1. A public audience at Riccardo’s palace, attended by his supporters, but also by his enemies who hope for his downfall.

Riccardo reviews the list of guests who will attend an upcoming masked ball. He is elated to see on the list the name of the woman he loves – Amelia, the wife of his friend and advisor, Renato. When Renato arrives, he tries to warn Riccardo about the growing conspiracy against him, but Riccardo refuses to listen to his words.

Next, Riccardo is presented with a complaint against a fortune-teller named Ulrica, accused of witchcraft. A magistrate calls for her banishment, but Oscar the page defends her. Riccardo resolves to investigate for himself and tells the members of the court to disguise themselves and to meet him at Ulrica’s lodging later that day.

Scene 2. At Ulrica’s dwelling. Riccardo, disguised as a fisherman, arrives before the others; when he realizes that Amelia is coming to see Ulrica, he hides and watches. Alone with Ulrica, Amelia confesses that she is tormented by her love for Riccardo, and asks for a means to bring peace to her heart. Ulrica tells her to gather a certain herb with magical powers; Riccardo resolves to be there when she does so. Amelia leaves.

Now Riccardo presents himself again, along with all of the courtiers, and asks to have his fortune told. Ulrica reveals that he will be killed by the next man who shakes his hand. He laughingly dismisses her prophecy and offers his hand to the courtiers, who refuse to take it. Finally Renato appears and takes Riccardo’s hand. Riccardo’s true identity is now revealed and he is acclaimed by the people.

Act II.

On the outskirts of the town, at the gallows-place. Midnight. Amelia, conquering her fears, has come here alone to pick the herb of which Ulrica told her. She is surprised by Riccardo, who has come to meet her. Now the two finally declare their love for each other.

Unexpectedly, Renato arrives, and Amelia covers her face with her veil before he can recognize her. Renato explains to Riccardo that the conspirators are pursuing him, and his life is in danger. Riccardo leaves, making Renato promise to escort the veiled woman safely back to town, not asking her identity. When the conspirators arrive, they confront Renato; in the struggle, Amelia’s veil drops. Renato assumes that Amelia and Riccardo have been involved in an adulterous love affair. He asks the two leaders of the conspiracy, Samuel and Tom, to meet him the next day.

Act III.

Scene 1. Renato’s house. Renato has resolved to kill Amelia for the dishonor she has brought on him. She protests her innocence and begs to see her son one last time. Renato relents, and declares that it is Riccardo, not Amelia, who deserves to die.

Samuel and Tom arrive, and Renato asks to join their plot, pledging the life of his son as proof of his sincerity. They agree to draw lots to decide who will kill Riccardo. Amelia is forced to draw the winning name – Renato.

Oscar, the page, arrives with invitations to the masked ball; Samuel, Tom and Renato agree that this is where the assassination will take place.

Scene 2. Riccardo, torn between love and duty, has resolved to renounce his love for Amelia and send her and Renato back to England.

At the ball, Renato tries to learn from Oscar what costume Riccardo is wearing. Oscar at first refuses to tell, but finally answers: a black cloak and a red ribbon. Riccardo manages to identify Amelia and tells her of the decision he has made. As they say goodbye, Renato stabs Riccardo. The wounded Riccardo discloses that though he loved Amelia, she never broke her marriage vows. He pardons all the conspirators, bidding farewell to his friends and his country as he dies.

Noted arias

  • "La rivedra nell'estasi" (Riccardo)
  • "Alla vita che t'arride" (Renato)
  • "Volta la terrea" (Oscar)
  • "Re dell'abisso" (Ulrica)
  • "Di' tu se fedele" (Riccardo)
  • "È scherzo od è follia" (Riccardo)
  • "Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa" (Amelia)
  • "Ve'se di notte qui con la sposa" (Samuel, Tom)
  • "Morrò, ma prima in grazia" (Amelia)
  • "Eri tu, che macchiavi" (Renato)
  • "Dunque l'onta di tutti sol una" (Renato, Samuel, Tom)
  • "Ma se m'e forza perderti" (Riccardo)
  • "Saper vorreste" (Oscar)
  • "Ella è pura: in braccio a morte" (Riccardo)

Un Ballo in Maschera in Popular Culture

The film comedy The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother features an English-language version of Un Ballo in Maschera in which the ballroom scene is deliberately mistranslated in a humorous way. The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother is a 1975 comedy with Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Dom De Luise and Leo McKern. ...


Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi, vol. 2, New York.Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-520068-3

Osborne, Charles. The Complete Operas of Verdi, New York. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80072-1

External links

  • Libretto

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