On the first Sunday in each month, a production from the repertoire of San Francisco Opera is broadcast on KDFC, the Bay Area’s classical music station, and this month, it’s Verdi’s A Masked Ball (Un Ballo in Maschera) – his interpretation of the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792.
The libretto for this dramatic tale of love, betrayal and revenge, is by Antonio Somma, who apparently based his text on the libretto which French dramatist Eugène Scribe had written for Daniel Auber’s 1833 opera, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. In Scribe’s work, he wrote of the assassination of the king who died of gunshot wounds received during a masked ball, as a result of a political conspiracy against him. (Gabriele Baldini: The Story of Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera – 1970).
In Verdi’s version, which premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on February 17, 1859, the flirtatious King Gustav III is warned by both his trusted advisor, Count Anckarström, as well as a fortune-teller, of a plot against his life. The king doesn’t take either warning seriously, but when Anckarström discovers that the monarch is having an affair with his wife, things take a more serious turn.
In this production, the role of King Gustav is sung by Mexican tenor, Ramón Vargas, who made his debut with San Francisco Opera in two performances of this role in 1999. American soprano, Julianna Di Giacomo, sings the role of Amelia, on whom the king has set his eye. A graduate of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, Ms Di Giacomo makes her first appearance with the Company in this production.
Count Anckarström – Gustav’s jealous and impulsive adviser – is sung by American baritone, Thomas Hampson. One of the most respected and sought-after soloists today, he is also a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, was inducted to Gramophone’s 2013 ‘Hall of Fame’, honored as a Metropolitan Opera Guild Met Mastersinger, and presented with the first Venetian Heritage Award in 2013, and the Concertgebouw Prize in 2011.
Madame Arvidson, the fortune teller, is sung by American mezzo-soprano, Dolora Zajick, who is renowned for her portrayal of strong Verdi characters, and soprano Heidi Stober returns to the Company in the role of Oscar, the page, following her appearance last year as Magnolia Hawks in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat.
San Francisco Opera’s production of A Masked Ball is directed by Jose Maria Condemi, and sung in Italian. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus – Director Ian Robertson – are conducted by Nicola Luisotti. The broadcast takes place on Classical KDFC at 8.00 pm on Sunday, March 1. Visit the KDFC website for tuning frequencies or to listen online.