What’s On By Zoe Christodoulides and Chris Ekin-Wood

Love, passion and masks

Giuseppe Verdi’s A Masked Ball performed by the Mariinsky Theatre will form the centre piece of this year’s Aphrodite Festival

How often do you get to see one of the world’s most talked about operas? Be part of the crowd this September as Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) takes to the stage.

Performed by the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, this performance is undoubtedly one of the most important cultural events of the year. Some of the greatest Russian compositions and theatres were born out of the Mariinsky. Its performance of A Masked Ball will be the showpiece of the Aphrodite Festival, taking place at the Paphos Medieval Castle.

Un Ballo in Maschera has a rather strange history. Under strong pressure from the San Carlo Theatre of Naples for a new work, Verdi decided to take on an opera that had for some time interested other musicians and so went about reworking a libretto by Antonio Somma. The libretto was inspired by events surrounding the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden at a masquerade ball in the mid 18th century. The opera premi?red in Paris in 1833 and was still being performed in 1857 when Verdi decided to rework it.

Bourbon censorship however meddled constantly with the composition of the opera and Verdi was obliged to make extensive changes to the piece. Shortly after the Maestro arrived in Naples in January 1858, Napoleon III narrowly escaped an attempt on his life, and the censors became even more stifling. Verdi was not willing to distort his opera completely as the San Carlo asked him to, and so broke his contract with the theatre. The theatre sued him and Verdi responded with a libel suit. This legal skirmish ended with the withdrawal of accusations by the theatre and the composer’s promise to finish another work by the autumn. Never has the writing process of an opera had to face so many obstacles!

The opera finally appeared as Una Vendetta in Dominio in the Apollo in Rome. Not even here however did the libretto enjoy any peace as the plot setting had to be changed from Stockholm to Boston and the character of King Gustave had to become the Count of Warwick, governor of Massachusetts. In the words of Shakespeare it was all much ado about nothing. The opera was finally presented with the title Un Ballo in Maschera on the evening of February 17, 1859.

Over a century later, the opera stands as one of today’s most loved works with mysterious dramatic situations, lush melodic vocal lines, and one of opera’s greatest love duets. The Mariinsky Theatre’s cast of young soloists bring to life the intense pleasures and pain of forbidden passion. Coupled with a moral message of forgiveness, this is considered to be one of the most ‘Shakespearean’ operas ever written as the plot blends dark and light, tragedy and comedy.

Riccardo, the Count of Warwick, loves Amelia, the wife of his best friend Renato. When he is found out, Renato plots to murder him at a masked ball. But how can they possibly recognise him at such an event? Oscar, Riccardo’s page, tries very hard to keep his master’s identity a secret but he finally gives it up, with tragic consequences. Performed in Italian, the opera will include supertitles in both English and Greek.

Paphos Aphrodite Festival

Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera performed by the State Academic Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg. September 1,2 and 3. Medieval Castle, Paphos Harbour. 8pm. £20, £30, £35, £45. Tel: 8000-8005/26 822218. Email:[email protected]. www.pafc.com.cy