Returned from Exile: Verdi's 'A Masked Ball' in Stockholm

ACT ONE opens in the residence of Gustavo, the king of Sweden. Right off the bat, there's conflict. Simultaneously, in two contrasting choruses, we hear a group of nobles praising Gustavo, while some of his own deputies denounce him.

Anckarström, the governor's closest friend, warns him about the discontent. Gustavo is confident the people will support him. Still, he has a personal problem that may cause even more trouble. He's secretly in love with Anckarström's wife, Amelia.

A judge approaches the king, requesting the deportation of Ulrica, a local fortune-teller. He's afraid that her predictions may cause unrest among the common folk. The page Oscar defends Ulrica. He suggests that Gustavo pay a visit to the fortune teller himself, before making a decision.

The next scene is in Ulrica's home. People are gathered, and she predicts that a certain young sailor will soon become an officer. Gustavo is there in disguise. He promptly hands the sailor a handwritten note, promoting him -- and fulfilling the prediction.

Amelia then arrives for a private consultation with Ulrica. The fortune-teller sends everyone else away, but Gustavo hides in a corner to eavesdrop. Amelia wants advice on her love life. She says she's loyal to Anckarström, her husband. But she has fallen in love with Gustavo, and she's suffering from a guilty conscience. Ulrica tells her about a special herb, growing in only one place in the forest, that will cure her feelings. To himself, Gustavo vows to follow Amelia to the forest, and confront her in private.

When everyone returns, Gustavo, still in disguise, wants Ulrica to tell HIS fortune, too. She says he'll soon be killed, and that the murderer will be next man who takes his hand.

At that, Anckarström enters, and shakes hands with Gustavo. The king reveals his identity, and declares that the fortuneteller is obviously a fraud -- Anckarström is his best friend, and would never threaten him. The words of his little speech are cheerful -- but Verdi sets them to ominous music. Then the young sailor returns and announces his promotion. The people congratulate him, and praise Gustavo, as the act ends.

ACT TWO takes place on a gloomy hill, in the forest. Amelia is there at the advice of a fortune-teller. She was told that in that one spot, there was an herb that could cure her troublesome feelings for Gustavo. But Gustavo overheard that advice, and followed her. Now he confronts Amelia, and declares his love -- and she admits that she loves him, as well.

Amelia is wearing a veil, so when her husband Anckarström suddenly appears, he doesn't recognize her. Anckarström has come to warn Gustavo that someone has been watching him with this unknown woman, and that traitors are on their way to assassinate him.

Gustavo agrees to flee, but not before Anckarström promises to protect the anonymous woman. After the king has gone, the conspirators arrive, including the rebellious counts Ribbing and Horn, and all their men. Anckarström pulls his sword, but he's outnumbered. To save him, Amelia drops her veil. When the men see who she is, Ribbing and Horn snicker in amusement. Anckarström thinks Gustavo has betrayed him, and he invites the two traitors to a meeting the next morning.

As ACT THREE begins, Anckarström wants to get even with both Amelia, and the king. He considers killing Amelia, who begs for his forgiveness, and says she never truly betrayed him. In a well-known monologue, "Eri Tu," Anckarström decides his wife should be spared, but King Gustavo should die.

Ribbing and Horn then appear. They meet with Anckarström, and the three men decide Gustavo should be assassinated. They force Amelia to draw lots, to determine which of them will have the honor of committing the murder. The task is won by Anckarström. Just then, the page Oscar delivers an official invitation to a masked ball, at the governor's mansion that evening. The men think that event will be the perfect time to kill Gustavo.

Meanwhile, Gustavo has been presented with an order to exile Anckarström and Amelia. It seems like good a way out of his difficulties. But he hesitates to sign it, and decides that first he'll attend the ball, and see Amelia one last time.

When all the guests have arrived, Ribbing and Horn threaten Oscar, who tells them what mask and costume Gustavo is wearing. While Gustavo and Amelia are saying their goodbyes, Anckarström walks up behind Gustavo with a pistol, and shoots him in the back. As he's dying, Gustavo pardons the conspirators, proclaims Amelia's innocence, and says farewell to his people.