Giuseppe Verdi

Un ballo in maschera, opera

    Description by John Palmer

    Antonio Somma based the libretto of Un ballo in maschera on Eugène Scribe's libretto, Gustave III, ou Le bal masque, written for Daniel-François-Esprit Auber and first performed in 1833. Although Somma was a skillful poet, Verdi found it necessary to instruct him in the art of developing a libretto. Verdi and Somma first worked together on Re Lear, but this was never completed. Facing a deadline for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Verdi and Somma forged ahead with Un ballo in maschera (at first entitled Una Vendetta in Domino), but the Neapolitan censors demanded so many significant changes Verdi withdrew the piece and offered it to the Teatro Apollo in Rome. The Roman censors required, among other things, a change of locale, thus the action of Un ballo in maschera takes place in and around Boston, Massachusetts, near the end of the seventeenth century. (In protest to this and other changes, Somma asked that his name be omitted from the program.) It was first performed on February 17, 1859, achieving a great success and within three years playing throughout Europe and in New York. Some modern settings restore Scribe's eighteenth century Swedish setting and characters, a practice Verdi never approved. Scribe's libretto, based in part on historical fact, concerns the 1792 assassination of King Gustave III of Sweden at a masked ball. Although the real murder was most likely politically motivated, Scribe adds the element of jealousy by creating an affair between the King and the assassin's wife. Much of the opera is a straightforward translation of Scribe's libretto.

    Verdi's Un ballo in maschera is often discussed as an example of his "middle period" and shows the infusing of French elements into Verdi's intense approach to Italian serious opera. Contrapuntal writing permeates the orchestral prelude, which introduces us to the "sympathy" motive we hear in the opening chorus, the conspirator's motive and the melody of Riccardo's first aria, "La revidrà nell'estasi." Throughout the opera the orchestra continues to speak conspicuously, especially in the English horn obbligato in Amelia's first aria and similar passages for the cello in her second. An excellent example of the orchestral colors Verdi achieves is the fortune teller Ulrica's first scene (the second scene of Act One), featuring dark, low woodwinds playing unsettling tritones. Verdi applies old forms to Ulrica's ensuing aria, "Re dell'abisso," which begins in the minor and moves to the major for the cabaletta portion. Later in the scene, Verdi illustrates Ulrica's mysterious powers through her highly chromatic, "Della città all'occaso." Un ballo in maschera contains only one duet, one of Verdi's greatest. Occurring in Act Two between Riccardo and Amelia, the duet is a succession of declamatory outbursts that create a dialogue, held together by melodic material in the orchestra. A second section further contrasts the characters' melodic personalities and the duet closes with a lively cabaletta, "Oh qual soave brivido." This became a model for Verdi's soprano-tenor duets.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Prelude
    2. Posa in pace (chorus)
    3. Amici miei ... soldati
    4. La rivedrà nell'estasi
    5. Conte ... Oh ciel!
    6. Alla vita che t'arride
    7. Il primo giudice
    8. Volta la terrea
    9. Sia condonnata
    10. Zitti ... l'incanto non dèssi tubare (chorus)
    11. Re dell'abisso
    12. Arrivo il primo!
    13. È lui, è lui!
    14. Su, fatemi largo
    15. Senitite, la mia Signora
    16. Che v'agita cosi?
    17. Della città all'occaso
    18. Su, profetessa
    19. Di' tu se fedele
    20. Chi voi siate
    21. È scherzo od è follia
    22. Finisci il vaticinio
    23. O figlio d'Inghiterra
    24. Prelude
    25. Ecco l'orrido campo
    26. Ma dell'arido stelo divulsa
    27. Teco io stò
    28. M'ami, m'ami
    29. Oh, qual soave brivido
    30. Ahimè! S'appressa alcun
    31. Amico, gelosa
    32. Odi tu come fremono cupi
    33. Seguitemi
    34. Ve', se di notte
    35. A tal colpa è nulla il pianto
    36. Morrò, ma prima in grazia
    37. Alzati! là tuo figlio
    38. Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima
    39. Siam soli Udite
    40. Dunque l'onta di tutti sol una!
    41. Il messaggio entri
    42. Di che fulgor
    43. Forse la soglia attinse
    44. Ma se m'è forza perderti
    45. Fervono amori
    46. Saper vorreste
    47. Ah! perchè qui!
    48. T'amo, si, t'amo
    49. E tu ricevi il mio!
    50. Ah! Morte, infamia
    51. Ella è pura (Finale)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Sony Classical 88985311342
    2016 Myto Historical / Myto Historical Line / Myto Records MCD 00283
    2015 Urania / Urania Records WS 121211
    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 5083
    2014 Warner Classics 0825646340873
    2013 Sony Classical 88883721202
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099941674
    2012 Krescendo Records / Zebralution
    2012 ZYX CLA 101392
    2012 Broken Audio BRAUR 0190
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099931927
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4784165
    2011 Sony Classical 8869791002
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099945609
    2010 Urania 415
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 001303802
    2009 Ponto [Mitridate] 2002
    2009 Tactus 790003
    2009 Documents / Documents Classics / Membran 231858
    2009 Documents / Documents Classics / Membran 231859
    2009 RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG 88697581322
    2008 Decca 0743227
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 004400734458
    2008 Gala Records 100789
    2008 Myto Records 131
    2008 Myto Records 8
    2008 Royal Opera House Heritage Series 9
    2008 Opera D'Oro 7048
    2008 VAI Audio 4436
    2007 BRV 9909
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946395918
    2007 Decca 000829602
    2007 Decca
    2006 RCA Red Seal 67893
    2006 Decca 460176
    2006 Preiser Records 90694
    2006 Teldec
    2006 Myto Records 63117
    2005 RSR 6167
    2005 Myto Records 52100
    2005 Myto Records 45300
    2005 Cascavelle 3014
    2004 Chandos 3116
    2004 Myto Records 34081
    2004 Mondo Musica 10601
    2003 Myto Records 33280
    2002 Decca 470 586-2DOC2
    2002 Naxos 110178-79
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 5 67918-2
    2002 IDIS 6383/84
    2002 Warner Fonit 82643
    2001 Opera D'Oro E
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 67476
    2001 Myto Records 11238
    2001 Opera D'Oro 1302
    2001 Preiser Records 20005
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 67449
    2000 Gala Records 100509
    2000 Lyrica 11102
    2000 Bella Voce 7236
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 445822
    1999 VAI Audio 1169
    1998 Preiser Records 89957
    1998 Golden Melodram 20009
    1998 Opera D'Oro 1145
    1998 Decca 4607622
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 453148
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66510
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56320
    1997 Philips 456 316-2PM2
    1996 Teldec 4509-98408-2
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449 588-2GX2
    1996 Arkadia 78005
    1996 On Stage! 4705
    1995 Myto Records 951123
    1994 London 440042
    1988 RCA Victor 86645
    1987 EMI Music Distribution 47498
    1985 Decca / Universal Classics & Jazz
    1985 Decca 410210
    RCA 60301
    Arkadia 488
    GAO 183
    Calig 50946
    Standing Room Only 804
    Grammofono 2000 78556
    Serenissima 360118.19
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 13
    EMI Music Distribution 69993
    Deutsche Grammophon 477 5641GOH2
    Virtuoso 2697412
    Deutsche Grammophon 415685
    Deutsche Grammophon 427635
    RCA 6645
    Disky 770
    Enterprise 311
    Golden Age of Opera 183
    Globe 5109
    Ornamenti 103
    Melodram 26039
    Foyer Records 2047
    Arkadia 622
    Serenissima 360118