About the Show
During the late 18th century, Riccardo, a Governor in the American colonies, is universally loved and respected by his subjects. Nevertheless, he is alerted by Renato, his secretary and loyal friend, that there is a small group of discontents in his court, led by Samuel and Tom, who are conspiring to assassinate him. Riccardo is embroiled in a paradoxical personal conflict: he is secretly in love with Amelia, Renato’s wife.
A judge has banished the gypsy sorceress, Ulrica, for witchcraft. Riccardo decides that he will visit her cave – in the disguise of a fisherman – to ascertain if there is truth in the allegations. Amelia appears at the cave, desperately seeking a cure for her conflict; her uncontrollable passion for Riccardo that she fears will result in shame and dishonor. Ulrica prescribes an antidote to solve her dilemma; a magic herb that she can find at midnight in the execution fields. Riccardo overhears their conversation and vows to rendezvous with Amelia that night. Ulrica reads Riccardo’s fortune and prophesies that the first man who shakes his hand will kill him: at that very moment, Renato arrives, ignorant of Ulrica’s warning, and shakes Riccardo’s hand.
At the execution fields at midnight, Riccardo confronts Amelia: both are unable to control their passions and ecstatically affirm their love for each other. When approaching footsteps are heard, Amelia veils herself: it is Renato, arriving to warn Riccardo that conspirators are about to murder him. Riccardo flees, disguised in Renato’s cloak. The conspirators arrive, and when Amelia removes her veil, Renato realizes that he has been betrayed by his wife as well as his best friend.
Renato seeks revenge and joins the conspirators in their assassination plot. Lots are drawn to choose the murderer: Renato’s name is selected. Amelia, witnessing their intrigue, sends an anonymous letter to Riccardo warning him that his life is in mortal danger. At the masked ball that evening, Renato fatally stabs Riccardo. Before dying, Riccardo swears to Amelia’s innocence, pardons the conspirators, and promotes Renato as a diplomatic envoy.
About the composer
When Un ballo en Maschera premieres in 1861:
- American Civil War: In Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as the provisional president of the Confederate States of America.
- President Abraham Lincoln takes office, succeeding James Buchanan.
- Italian unification: The Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed by the new Parliament, with Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia becoming its king.
- The American Civil War begins with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
- American Civil War: In order to help pay for the war effort, the United States government issues the first income tax as part of the Revenue Act of 1861.
- HMS Warrior, the world's first ocean-going (all) iron-hulled armored battleship, is completed and commissioned.