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.