The true political driving forces are of a private nature – that is not rarely the case in Giuseppe Verdi’s works. In UN BALLO IN MASCHERA he links the historical example of the assassination attempt on the Swedish King Gustav with a love story. Verdi took the murder of Gustav III, who in the course of a masked ball was killed, as the basis for this opera that was intended to have its premiere at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The MASKED BALL wound up premiering in Rome, thanks to Verdi’s strong will after a rocky period in the work’s genesis.
It is easy to understand why the censors in the Kingdom of Naples - after the assassination attempt on Ferdinand II in 1856 – rejected the plot of an opera with the assassination of a king, despite it taking place in faraway Sweden and in the year 1792. Verdi had a court confirm that the censor’s requested modifications would ruin his work. He withdrew the work from the theater in Naples and decided to have it premiered in Rome, but there, too, depoliticization was demanded – the authorities were nervous everywhere.
Such considerations in our times play no role and so, it will be interesting to see how Sir David Pountney, in the second part of his Verdi trilogy for Bonn – after THE SICILIAN VESPERS – will handle this aspect of Verdi’s work in the “Verdi machine” he developed for three Verdi opera productions.