Giuseppe Verdi

Un ballo in maschera

opera in three acts

Age 12+


Libretto: Antonio Somma, Francesco Maria Piave
Musical director: Honoured Art Worker of the Republic of Belarus Nikolai Koliadko
Director: People’s Artist of Belarus, Honoured Art Worker of Russia Semen Stein
Designer: People's Artist of Russia, laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Belarus Vyacheslav Okunev
Chorus master: People's Artist of Belarus, laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Belarus Nina Lomanovich
Costume designer: Irina Press
Choreography: Honoured Artist of Russia Larisa Trembovelskaya
Conductor: Ivan Kostyakhin

Running time: 3 hours with two intervals
Sung in Italian with Russian surtitles
Premiere: 30 April 1988




Act I

Scene 1
It is early morning in the house of Riccardo, Earl of Warwick, Governor of Boston, Massachusetts. In the chorus which opens the opera, loyal subjects wish Riccardo peace and happiness, at the same time as a group of malcontents who are conspiring against his life under the leadership of Samuel and Tom express their hatred and determinatoin to seek revenge. The page Oscar announces the Governor's approach. Riccardo himself greets those assembled, and Oscar shows him the list of guests invited to an impending ball; this sets Riccardo dreaming of Amelia – the wife of his secretary Renato – with whom he is in love. The crowd withdraws, Riccardo bids Oscar wait outside with the rest. On his way out, the page passes Renato, who as well as being Riccardo's secretary is also his cinfidant and friend. When, struck by the troubled expression on the Governor's face, Renato says that he is well aware of the cause of his anxiety, Riccardo, his mind full of Amelia, is understandably alarmed; but he is reassured when it turns out that Renato is referring to a plot against his life. Renato offers to reveal the conspirators' names, but Riccardo prevents him, saying that he does not wish to know, for that would entail further bloodshed, something he wishes to avoid at all costs. Oscar announces the Chief Justice, who has come to demand banishment for the fortune-teller Ulrica on the grounds that her dwelling is a hotbed of intrigue and conspiracy. Oscar defends Ulrica, praising her ability to foretell the outcome of affairs of the heart. Riccardo's curiosity is aroused, and summoning everyone back, he invites them to come with him that evening to visit the fortune-teller – in disguise. He orders Oscar to prepare him a fisherman's costume. Renato is alarmed for the Governor's safety; Samuel, Tom and the conspirators anticipate a possibility of revenge. The scene ends with all agreeing to be at Ulrica's dwelling at the third hour after sunset.

Scene 2
Ulrica's dwelling; a crowd awaits her predictions. Riccardo enters disguised as a fisherman and notes that he is the first of the court to arrive. Silvano, a sailor, pushes his way through to the fortune-teller and demands to know what reward fate has in store for him after fifteen arduous years in Riccardo's service; when Ulrica predicts for him gold and rank, Riccardo hastily scribbles something on a piece of paper which he slips into Silvano's pocket, together with some money – Ulrica's prophecy is immediately fulfilled, and all those present acclaim her powers. There is now a knocking a small door at the rear. Ulrica opens it to admit someone whom Riccardo recognizes as one of Amelia's servants; he has come to ask for a secret interview for his mistress. Ulrica asks every one to leave her alone, but Riccardo conceals himself and remains behind to eavesdrop. Amelia enters and begs Ulrica to help her overcome her guilty passion for the Governor. Riccardo is overjoyed to learn that she loves him. Ulrica promises that if Amelia goes at dead of night to pluck a magic herb that grows beneath the gallows outside the city walls her prayer will be answered. Riccardo resolves to follow her there. As Amelia leaves, Ulrica admits a group of courtiers which includes Oscar, Samuel and Tom. Riccardo asks Ulrica to tell his fortune. At first appalled by what she reads in his palm, only reluctantly and under pressure does she predict that Riccardo will meet an early death at the hand of a friend; she goes on to say that the killer will be the next man to shake his hand. Riccardo lightheartedly offers his hand to the company; no-one dares touch it, but at that moment Renato enters and warmly clasps Riccardo's hand. This, for Riccardo, is proof enough that the oracle is false – Renato is his closest and most trusted friend. When Renato exclaims "Riccardo!", Ulrica realizes that her client is the Governor himself. Pointing out to her that her familiar genius had neither revealed his identity to her nor the fact that she had been threatened with banishment, he allays her fears with a gift of money. Ulrica thanks him, but repeats her warning of imminent danger as a large crowd, led by the grateful Silvano, gathers to praise Riccardo.

Act 2
A lonely spot outside the town, where the moon glimmers through the mist upon the gallows-tree. Amelia, closely veiled, makes her faltering way down the hillside. Aghast at her dreadful surroundings and deeply troubled, she becomes a prey to grim fantasies and falls to her knees in prayer. Riccardo, who has been following her, startles her by appearing suddenly. She begs him to leave for the sake of her good name but he refuses, urging his love for her. Despite her insistence that she belongs to another – Riccardo's greatest and most loyal friend – he finally extracts her admission that she loves him too. They express their mutual ardour, but then, hearing footsteps approaching, Amelia hastily readjusts her veil as she recognizes her husband; he has come to warn Riccardo that the conspirators are nearby, awaiting an opportunity to strike. He thrusts his own cloak upon Riccardo, urging him to escape. Riccardo eventually consents, but only after he has entrusted Renato, under oath, with the mission of escorting his veiled companion back to the town gates, there to leave her without ever having seen her face. Renato promises faithfully to do so and Riccardo makes good his escape. As Renato turns to escort the almost swooning Amelia, the conspirators arrive, only to discover that their prey has eluded them. By way of consolation, Tom decides to take a look at Renato's companion. Renato tries to protect her and is himself threatened; Amelia steps between them and, in her anxiety, accidently lets fall her veil. Renato is thunderstruck to see his wife, whilst the conspirators are greatly amused that he should keep a tryst with his own wife in the damp grass at dead of night. Beside himself with jealousy, humiliation and his sense of Riccardo's ingratitude for his devoted service, Renato invites Samuel and Tom to meet him at his house the following morning. They agree and all the conspirators disperse, relishing in advance the effect of their gossip upon the town. Renato urges the tearful and reluctant Amelia homewards.

Act 3
Scene 1
Renato's study. A full-length portrait of the Earl hangs on the wall. Renato enters, drawn sword in hand, dragging Amelia behind him. Her fault, he asserts, is inexcusable, and blood alone will suffice. Amelia, her protestations of innocence ignored, finally accepts that her death is inevitable but begs, on her knees, for one last favour – to be allowed to see her son once more. Renato accedes to her wish and ushers her into an inner room. Alone, his eyes fixed upon the Earl's portrait, he avers that it is not upon Amelia's frail head that his wrath should fall, but elsewhere. Addressing the portrait, he reproaches the Earl for having dishonoured his wife and ruined his happiness. Samuel and Tom arrive at the appointed hour, and Renato informs them that he wishes to join their conspiracy to kill Riccardo. They are amazed, but, finally convinced and having sworn a joint oath of vengeance, they fall to disputing who shall have the coveted task of dealing the fatal blow. Taking a bronze vase from the mantleshelf, Renato writes their three names on three pieces of paper and puts them into the receptacle. At this point Amelia comes to the door to announce the arrival of the page Oscar with a message from the Earl and Renato forces her to draw the fatal name from the vase. With great apprehension she does so: the name she draws is 'Renato' and she realizes only too clearly what is afoot. Oscar now enters, bearing an invitation to a masked ball. Amelia would refuse, but Renato accepts for both of them. As Oscar expatiates on the anticipated brilliance of the occasion, Amelia laments her unwitting role in the plot and the conspirators congratulate themselves on being handed the ideal opportunity for furthering their designs. Amelia begins to wonder how she can warn Riccardo; meanwhile Samuel, Tom and Renato deside upon the costume they are to wear and upon a password – "Death!".

Scene 2
takes place in a study in the Governor's house. Riccardo is sitting at his desk musing. He has desided to give up all thoughts of Amelia and transfer Renato to a new post in England for which he is to leave at once accompanied by his wife. He hesitates to sing the order, but finally forces himself to do so and then conceals the paper about him. Now knowing that he must lose Amelia for ever, he expresses his conviction that he will never cease to love her. He is assailed by an incomprehensible foreboding. Oscar now enters to deliver a note that has been pressed into his hand by an unknown woman with the strict injunction to give it in secret to the Earl. The note warns Riccardo that an attempt will be made on his life at the ball, but he refuses to heed the warning for fear of being suspected of cowardice. Sending Oscar off to get ready for the ball, he forgets his recent resolve not to see Amelia ever again and revels in the anticipation of her presence in his house.

Scene 3
takes place in the ballroom, which is crowded with guests, some masked, others not. They all praise the brilliance of the occasion. Renato, not having seen Riccardo, is relieved when Oscar tells him that his master is present and tries to worm from him the secret of the Earl's disguise. Oscar refuses to tell, though admitting that he knows, but at last the wily secretary manages to persuade the page that he has urgent affairs of state to discuss with the Governor and Oscar capitulates and describes the Earl's costume. Renato goes in search of his associates. A moment later Riccardo appears followed by Amelia, masked, who is desperately urging him to flight. By her concern, Riccardo recognizes her, but, knowing she loves him, cannot tear himself away. Finally, he tells her of his plan for sending her and Renato to England the next day. As they are taking a last farewell of each other, Renato, who has approached them unobserved, plunges his dagger into Riccardo's heart. Riccardo falls, and Amelia's cries bring Oscar and the guests running. Oscar accuses Renato of the bloody deed but the dying Riccardo commands them all to leave Renato alone, then, beckoning his erstwhile friend to his side, he explains that although he loved Amelia he has always respected her honour and, producing the paper referring to Renato's promotion, tells him of the plan he had devised. While Renato contemplates with horror and self-loathing the consequences of his ill-considered and mistaken revenge, Riccardo extends a free pardon to all, takes farewell of his dear subjects and his beloved America and dies.