Giuseppe Verdi – From La Scala. Un Ballo In Maschera
Recorded in 1961.
About this collection of operas from La Scala:
Between 1960 and 1981, the music label Deutsche Grammophon recorded the eight greatest operas composed by Verdi at La Scala in Milan, the home of Italian operas. World’s leading singers and conductors were involved in the recording. The result provides you with the best possible way to get familiar with Verdi’s operas.
About this opera:
Un ballo in maschera (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, 17 February 1859.
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. Among these changes is a transportation of the setting to Boston, Massachusetts. 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.”
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 from his wounds. It is on this episode that Verdi’s Masked Ball is loosely based; however, very little historical truth is contained in Verdi’s opera.
In 1833, the French playwright Eugène Scribe wrote about Gustav in a play 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.
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, where Verdi’s opera was to be performed, required extensive changes, eventually demanding more alterations than the composer was willing to make. Therefore, he broke his contract and was sued by the management of the Teatro San Carlo, thus provoking him to lodge a counter-claim against the theater for damages. Eventually, the legal fight ended with the house’s charges being withdrawn, freeing Verdi to offer the opera to the Rome Opera house.
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.
This opera was first seen in New York its US premiere on 11 February 1861 and in the UK on 15 June of that year. In the 20th century, especially after a 1935 production in Copenhagen, many modern stagings have restored the original Swedish setting and characters´ names. On 7 January 1955, Marian Anderson, singing the role of Ulrica, broke the “color barrier” at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the first African-American artist ever to appear with that company. Today, the opera is performed regularly.