Un Ballo in Maschera: Beautiful Opera Music Marred by a Poor Storyline

Un Ballo in Maschera (The Masked Ball) is one of those operas in which the music is better than the story.

It’s about the assassination of Gustave III of Sweden during a masked ball. That much is historically accurate.  The rest of the opera…not so much, even down to the last scene when the king is dying and forgives his assassin. Moving, yes, but not accurate. It’s one of those operas that can succeed or fail on the performance of a single character. In this case it’s the aria of the gypsy witch Ulrica who prophesies the king’s death. If she’s believable the opera rocks.

This opera was written by Verdi. It has all the usual Verdi touches: forbidden love, flashes of humor, jealousy, assassination, plans within plans.  And it’s not a bad opera. It’s just not all that great. Except for the extraordinary music which blows you away.

It’s the music that makes this opera memorable. It’s as beautiful as anything Verdi ever wrote, and that’s saying a lot.

Opera is funny. You don’t have to listen to a lot of them or watch very many to get a feel for what the art form is about. There aren’t that many operas anyway so if you listen/watch to about a dozen or so you develop an appreciation for what’s being done artistically. Unfortunately, Un Ballo in Maschera isn’t a beginner’s opera. You would do better to watch Aida or Tosca or maybe  Madame Butterfly if you’re starting out and want to learn about opera.

But if you already know something about it, or have been exposed to opera on some level, I think you will appreciate Un Ballo in Maschera.

Give it a peek.

Ulrica prophesies the death of a king....

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6 Comments

  1. Get outta my head, Mister! I was just talking about opera with my husband yesterday. My problem with opera is that I have not found an entry point that makes this form interesting to me. I am so frustrated by my lack of interest in opera! My husband suggested looking at the Italian composers first, and he thought I should focus on the turn-of-the-century offerings.

    So… if this is like ballet, where there are entry-level ballets (like The Nutcracker), and then advanced offerings (like the full three-hour Sleeping Beauty), what operas fit within that framework?

    Not La bohème, please– not that one. The libretto ticks me off.

    Reply
    • I am not a fan of La Boheme, either. I think it’s overrated.

      Try Cavalleria Rusticana or Pagliacci. They are typically shown as a pair anyway because they are both so short. I really like Cav.
      Another good entry level opera is either Aida or Madame Butterfly. 🙂

      Reply
      • I just wrote down all four of your suggestions. The first two are new to me, and the second two, I’ve only heard excerpts and arias. THANK YOU!

        Okay. One more question: My husband said that you can’t go wrong with the NY Met because of the general production values, but are there any particular stars of opera that I should consider when picking a version of the four operas you mentioned?

        (And I did note down that the first two come as a pair, usually.)

        AH! I’m so excited now! Thank you so much!

        Reply
        • I absolutely agree about the Met. Their production values are rarely surpassed. When I have an opportunity to buy a Met opera production for DVD that’s the way I go.

          Reply
  2. I really have always valued any opera much more for the music than the storyline. I appreciate your reviewing this performance of this Verdi opera with which I was only vaguely familiar.

    Reply

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