Verdi’s A Masked Ball is a blend of splendid elements. It has romance: Riccardo, the Governor of Boston, and Amelia are in the toils of an irresistible attraction. It has drama: Amelia is married to the Governor’s best friend and political advisor, Renato. It has intrigue: the Governor’s political opponents, led by Samuel and Tom, are planning to assassinate Riccardo, and Renato is his most loyal defender. The first act writhes with dramatic irony because Renato does not understand that the man he is loyal to is his betrayer. In the third act, which is a masked ball, all the masks are peeled away, and a tragic truth is revealed.
The Canadian Opera Company’s update of the setting to the 1960s, Kennedy-era Boston, while problematic, is actually based on Verdi’s experience of staging his first production a hundred years earlier. The core story of the libretto is based on the assassination of Swedish King Gustav III at a masked ball in 1792. Verdi’s problems with censors around the assassination of a noble forced him out of a European setting to the safety of colonial Boston in the 1690s, where the witchcraft element would also be at home. And since the witch was African, the directorial team of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito were inspired to blend Verdi with the 1960s, when segregation was being called into question by a President with an eye for the ladies and a connection with “the youth culture” symbolized in the opera by Oscar, the Governor’s aide in charge of the ball.
A Masked Ball continues till 22 February.
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