This week I will share with you a recent video recording of me singing “Volta la Terrea”. An Aria from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera: Un Ballo in Maschera. This lyrical opera is a romantic tragedy; however, Verdi superbly switches between humour and heartbreak through his command of great melodies. I have included a synopsis of the opera in this blog post to help provide you with some context for the aria.
- Riccardo, Earl of Warwick (tenor), an English colonial governor
- Renato (baritone), secretary to Riccardo
- Amelia (soprano), Renato’s wife
- Ulrica (contralto), a fortuneteller
- Oscar (soprano), a page, a young attendant of Riccardo
- Samuel and Tom (bass), two conspirators
Riccardo is in love with Amelia, but he cannot openly act on this desire as she is the wife of his secretary, Renato. Riccardo notices that Amelia has been invited to an upcoming Masked Ball and anticipates the joy of seeing his secret love. However, this daydream is quickly disrupted when Renato warns Riccardo of a plot to kill him. Riccardo ignores the threat and decides to concentrate his efforts on handling his official duties. Oscar, his page, tells the King about a woman, Ulrica, who has been accused of Witchcraft. Oscar defends the woman and explains that she should not be exiled and that she is not a witch but a fortune-teller. Finally, Riccardo decides to consult Ulrica himself.
Meanwhile, Amelia visits Ulrica. Amelia feels guilty that she loves Riccardo and asks for help. Ulrica tells Amelia that she must gather a magic herb at midnight. Riccardo then visits Ulrica, and she warns him that he will die by the next hand he shakes. Riccardo is a little perturbed and outstretches his hand for one of his entourage to shake. However, they avert their gaze and refuse the gesture. Finally, Renato enters, and Riccardo shakes his friend’s hand, dismissing the prediction as absurd.
Amelia has ventured out alone to collect the magic herb, but she is surprised by Riccardo, who confesses his love for her. Without warning, Renato appears to warn Riccardo that he is in danger. Whilst Renato cautions Riccardo, Amelia quickly covers her face with a veil to hide her identity from her husband. Riccardo heeds the advice and decides to flee; he instructs Renato to accompany the mystery woman back to town and not ask her to reveal, however, her identity. Renato agrees, and during their journey, they are stopped by the assassins, Samuel and Tom. They are disappointed not to have caught their prey, so they intimidate the woman and try to remove her veil. To protect her honour and his promise to Riccardo, Renato steps in to fight them. Amelia does not want her husband to fight, so she drops her veil and reveals herself. This reveal amuses the conspirators, as Renato is shocked by the king’s betrayal and accuses his wife of infidelity. Renato decides to join the conspirators and vows revenge.
Riccardo decides to send Renato and Amelia to England so that she can be safe and he can avoid acting on his desires, in turn protecting his friend Renato’s honour. Oscar warns Riccardo that an attempt will be made on his life at the Masked Ball. Riccardo ignores the warning as he knows Amelia will attend, and he has to say a final goodbye. At the Ball, Amelia recognises Riccardo and begs him to flee, but Renato appears and stabs him. In his last breaths, Riccardo forgives Renato and insists that Amelia is innocent.
Here is a recent interpretation of Oscar’s aria: “Volta la Terrea”, where he explains to Riccardo that Ulrica is a fortune-teller hoping he will acquit her from the charges.
If you visit a performance of Un Ballo in Maschera, you may see different names used by the characters. This is because Un Ballo in Maschera initially portrayed the murder of Sweden’s Gustave III. But since no king could be killed on an Italian stage, the victim became the governor of an English colony in the Americas – Riccardo. Nowadays, some opera houses revert to the original vision and Riccardo is renamed Gustavo after the King, and Renato is renamed Count Anckarström.