Synopsis

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Act I

Oscar inspects the ballroom of the Arvedson Palace Hotel.
The party leaders are at breakfast. Most of them are fervent followers of the governor Riccardo, but among them are also some secret opponents led by Samuel and Tom. Riccardo arrives. Oscar hands him the guest list for the planned masked ball. Riccardo is delighted to see Amelia’s name on the list. She is the wife of his best friend and political advisor Renato, and Riccardo has fallen in love with her. Renato appears. He misinterprets Riccardo’s diffidence as a reaction to the rumours of a planned assassination attempt and urges him, in the interest of his people, to intervene against the conspirators. Riccardo manages to not reveal his moral conflict to his friend. The magistrate hands Riccardo a document for signature: an order banishing Ulrica, an African-American woman.

Oscar jokingly defends the woman, who has made a name for herself as a fortune-teller. In order to form his own opinion, Riccardo decides to visit Ulrica incognito in the company of his companions.

Before a circle of women and children, Ulrica invokes the devil. Silvano, an invalid veteran from Riccardo’s fleet, questions her about when he will finally be compensated for his sacrifice. Ulrica prophesies wealth and imminent promotion. Riccardo, who has been observing the scene, secretly slips him a promotion letter. There is much jubilation at such quick fulfilment of Ulrica's prophecy. Amelia’s chauffeur requests a private audience for his mistress. Ulrica sends everyone away and Riccardo hides. Amelia asks Ulrica to deliver her from her adulterous passion for the governor. The fortune-teller tells her about a secret herb that, if picked below the gallows at midnight, will bring release. Amelia wants to seek it out that very evening. Riccardo resolves to follow her.

Riccardo’s followers – including the conspirators – arrive. Riccardo has his fortune told. Ulrica prophecies his imminent death at the hand of a friend. When Riccardo pushes for more detail, Ulrica describes the murderer as the next person to shake his hand. Renato, who has followed his friend, greets him with a handshake. Everyone takes this as a sign that the oracle was in error. Only now Riccardo reveals his identity. This is met with enthusiasm; Silvano initiates an anthem in his honour.


Act II

At midnight Amelia looks for the magic herb beneath the gallows. Riccardo, having secretly followed her, surprises her and reveals his love and extracts a confession of her love for him. Unexpectedly, Renato appears to warn Riccardo about Tom and Samuel, who are approaching with their fellow conspirators. He switches coats with the governor so that he can escape unimpeded, and promises to bring Riccardo’s veiled companion back to the city limits without enquiring as to her identity. The conspirators arrive and close in on the supposed governor and his companion. Renato reveals his identity and draws a weapon, in order to protect the identity of the lady entrusted to him. Amelia throws herself between the fighting men and in so doing drops her veil. The conspirators cannot make sense of the proceedings and the couple’s consternation, but take advantage of it in order to play down their own compromised situation. Renato invites Samuel and Tom to his house for the next day.


Act III

Amelia attempts to convince Renato that she has not committed adultery. He wants to kill her. She begs him to let her embrace her son one last time before her death. At this, Renato decides to kill his friend rather than his wife. Samuel and Tom arrive. Renato asks to be taken into the circle of the conspirators and hands over his son as a hostage, whose life should guarantee the sincerity of his intentions. They draw lots to decide who gets to kill the governor. Amelia is forced to draw the fateful lot. Renato is chosen. Oscar delivers the invitation to the masked ball. Renato decides to kill the governor at the ball. Amelia sees through his intentions and desperately thinks about how she can warn Riccardo without implicating her husband.

Riccardo, torn between friendship and love, finally decides never to see Amelia again and signs a decree dispatching Renato and Amelia to England. When Oscar delivers a letter from an “unknown lady” (the masked Amelia) warning Riccardo of an assassination attempt at the ball, he believes he will be accused of cowardice if he stays away. Full of anticipation at the final reunion with Amelia, he rushes recklessly to the ball.

The ball is in full swing. Oscar confirms to the doubting Renato that the governor actually is present at the ball. He also manages to find out from Oscar what Riccardo’s disguise is. Amelia discovers her beloved and begs him to leave the party, insisting that he is putting his life in danger by ignoring her warning. Riccardo can’t tear himself away from her, knowing that the next day she will leave America with Renato. When they embrace one last time, Renato shoots the governor. The dying Riccardo swears Amelia’s innocence and shows Renato the signed decree with his transfer to England. As his last official act, he pardons his murderer.


(l – r) Catherine Naglestad as Amelia, Piotr Beczala as Riccardo, Dalibor Jenis as Renato, Anna Prohaska as Oscar, Oliver Zwarg as Samuel and Andreas Bauer as Tom in the Berlin Staatsoper production of Un ballo in maschera. Photo: Ruth Walz © 2008