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Melodramma in 3 acts
Libretto by Antonio Somma adapted from „Gustave III.“, a drama by Eugène Scribe
First performed in Rome on 17th February, 1859
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 19th December, 1993
In Italian with German and English surtitles
3 hrs / 1 interval
Introduction (in German language): 45 minutes before beginning; Rang-Foyer
King Gustav III holds his morning audience as if it were a theatre performance. His page, Oscar, hands the King the list of guests expected at the imminent masked ball. Gustav discovers the name of Amelia, who is the wife of his best friend René Anckarström and the woman he secretly loves. A conspiracy against the King is being hatched. René warns him but the King underestimates the danger. Even the prophecy of soothsayer Ulrica, who foretells that the person who first offers him his hand will end up killing him, is ignored by the King as it is his good friend, René Anckarström, who greets him in this manner. When Gustav and Amelia confess their love on the execution site, René unexpectedly appears, warning his friend the King yet again. He swaps coats with the King to enable him to flee and promises to escort the veiled stranger back to the city. The conspirators appear and attack the supposed King, who reveals his identity. His wife Amelia throws herself between the combatants and drops her veil. Mocked as a betrayed husband, René wishes to join the conspirators. When the page, Oscar, arrives with the King's invitation to the masked ball, he decides to transform the ball into a dance of death for Gustav. Unbeknown to him, the King has already decided to renounce his love and follow the path of duty and honour. On taking leave of Amelia he is shot dead by René.
UN BALLO IN MASCHERA is a classic example of Verdi's new aesthetic of verità, which expands the palette of expression available to composers in musical drama. The gloom of King Gustav III's and Amelia's tragic love affair, which has all the signs of being their destiny, is in counterpoint to the radiant atmosphere at court, mainly represented by Oscar, the page. The dramatic highpoint comes in the finale of Act 3: the high-society ball brings together the conspirators and René Anckarström, causing an intertwining of narrative strands. Against a backdrop of elegant dance music the catastrophe unfolds. The final meeting of Amelia and Gustav is accompanied by a stylised minuet, which is only once interrupted by angst-driven music when Amelia fears for the life of her lover. The mood swings of the two main characters, chopping and changing between longing and guilt, are reflected in the rich aural tapestry - musical contrasts, sharp punctuations and syncopal structures all give expression to the intensity of feeling. It is above all in the music that the drama unfolds, with Götz Friedrich and his two set designers bringing their deft touches to the direction of the actors and the visual impression created on stage.