Stockholm, Sweden in March 1792.
Setting: a hall in the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
Officers and nobles are gathered awaiting the King's arrival as they sing a song of praise for him. (Posa in Pace) Horn and Ribbing join and in dark tones proclaim their hatred for the King. Oscar enters and announces Gustave's entrance. Gustave greets the gathered crowd and collects their pettitions as Oscar gives him the list of those invited to the next masked ball. Gustave begins to read the list and notices Amelia's name: "In ecstasy, I shall see her again." (La rivedrà nell' estasi) Oscar and the Nobles observe Gustave's pensiveness and mistake it for thoughts of their pettitions. The Conspirators note this is neither the time or the place for them to strike.
Gustave dismisses the group and Anckarström is shown into the room. Anckarström asks the reason for Gustave's distress at which he replies a private matter. Anckarström startles Gustave by stating he knows the real reason for his distress adding that he knows of the plot against him. Joyfully, Gustave realizes anckarström does not know of his love for Amelia. Anckarström tells Gustave he knows the names of the conspirators and will reveal them to him. Gustave tells him that if he knows who they are, then he would have to punish them and he does not want this. Anckarström reminds him of his country's dependence on his life. (Alla vita che t'arride.) Oscar arrives and announces the Chief Justice who brings a document ordering the banishement of Ulrica for her undesirable evil activities. Oscar defends her saying she can tell the future. Gustave calls for everyone to come back in and invites everyone to Ulrica's dwelling. "Come disguised to enjoy the charade." (Signori: oggi d'Ulrica) Anckarström tries to convince Gustave not to go, while Oscar proclaims it a wonderful idea. The conspirators mock Anckarström's worrying and hope that this will be the opportunity they have been awaiting. Thus it is settled - everyone will meet at three o'clock, incognito in Ulrica's den.
Setting: Ulrica's hut.
The scene opens to ominous chords and dark music in the air as a cauldron smolders on a fire place. Ulrica sets at a table as a young man and girl are awaiting their fortunes. A large crowd is gathered to watch the proceedings. Ulrica calls upon the King of the Abyss to come. "Three times the owl has sighed. Three times the Salamander has hissed. Three times a groan from the grave has been heard." Gustave enters dressed as a fisherman. He realizes he is the first to arrive as women push him back. Suddenly, Ulrica proclaims the King of the Abyss has entered her dwelling. The women praise her powers and Ulrica demands silence. A sailor, Christiano, enters saying that 15 years of harsh service he has given to the King. "What shall be my reward?" He demands of Ulrcia. She takes his hand and tells him he shall soon have gold and a promotion. Gustave writes on a slip of paper and hides it with gold in Christiano's pocket. Christiano finds the paper and reads it aloud. "Gold and a promotion!" He declares to the accompaniment of the womens' praises for Ulrica and her abilities.
A knock at the door is heard and Amelia's servant enters. He tells Ulrica that his mistress must have a private audience immediately. Ulrica sends everyone away except for Gustave who hides. Amelia, extremely agitated, rushes in. She tells Ulrica that a secret love plagues her. Ulrica tells her to go the fields of execution and pick some magic herbs. Amelia is to then bring them back to her and she will make a drink with them that will cure her of her love. Amelia declares that at midnight she will go and calls upon God to cleanse her heart. Gustave vows to accompany her as Ulrica re-assures Amelia it will work.
The crowd clamors for readmittance as Amelia leaves. Ulrica opens the door and the Conspirators, Oscar, nobles and officers in disguise enter. Gustave slips from his hiding place and joins them. They call for Ulrica to tell their fortunes as Gustave tells Oscar not to reveal his identity. Gustave then demands that his be the first fortune revealed. In a light aria, he tells Ulrica that nothing can keep him from the sea or the woman he loves. (Di' tu se fedele) "Whatever my fate may be: terror has no place in my soul!" Ulrica tells him his arrogance will come back to haunt him. The group shakes off her warning as Gustave offers his hand. Ulrica examines his hand and tells him it is that of a noble. Oscar's enthusiasm is checked by Gustave. Suddenly, Ulrica drops his hand and tells him to ask no more questions and to leave. At Gustave's insistence, Ulrica tells him he will soon die. Gustave happily tells her that if it is to be in battle, then so be it. "No! … By the hand of a friend." Ulrica declares to everyone's horror. Gustave tries to make light of the prophecy by casting aspersions on Ulrica's credibility. (È scherzo od è follia) Ulrica approaches Horn and Ribbing and observes they are not laughing. "What is in your hearts?" The conspirators grow frightened that she knows of their plot.
Gustave orders Ulrica to finish her prediction and reveal the assassin. Instead, Ulrica tells him that the next person to shake his hand will be the one to end his life. Gustave asks of the crowd, "Who will come forward to make a lier of Ulrica?" No one comes forward until Anckarström enters and unkowingly accepts Gustave's outstretched arm. The conspirators breath a sigh of relief that they have not been found out. The Chorus mocks Ulrica because Gustave has shaken the hand of his best friend and she recognizes Gustave as the King. Gustave tells her that the Judges wanted to banish her today and throws her a purse. Ulrica notes his generosity but warns him of a traitor - possibly more than one among his friends much to the amusement of the conspirators. Christiano and a large crowd are heard in the distance praising Gustave. They begin to enter calling for glory, health and happiness to smile on him. Oscar and Gustave join to declare their happiness over their subjects love while Anckarström tells Gustave to tread cautiously. The conspirators denounce the crowd as the blind following the blind. Ulrica warns that Gustave laughed at her prophecy, but has one foot in the grave.
Setting: A deserted field outside Stockholm at the foot of a steep hill.
Amelia enters and slowly descends from the hill to the place of the executions. She comments on the terror that grips her, but reminds herself that she must do her duty. (Ecco l'orrido campo) She wonders what will be left in her heart when she expunges the love for Gustave. Suddenly a bell in the distance is heard striking the midnight hour. Amelia's terror grows as she sees a head rising from the ground. "He stares at me - oh how terrible to see him!" She falls to her knees and calls upon God to have mercy on her tormented heart.
Gustave suddenly enters and tells her he is with her. (Teco io sto) Amelia, still terrified, asks Gustave to leave her. "Save my good name … or anguish and shame will destroy my life." Gustave replies, "No, never; I cannot because I love you so much." Amelia reminds him that she is his faithful friend's wife. Gustave asks Amelia to tell him she loves him - "Just one word …" She admits her love but tells him he must defend her from her heart. Gustave proclaims joy at her admission. "Let remorse and friendship be banished … let everything be removed but Love!" Gustave proclaims his love while Amelia repleatedly calls for him to protect her from her heart.
The two lovers realize someone is coming. Amelia covers herself with her veil as they realize it is her husband, Anckarström. Gustave questions him and Anckarström tells him the conspirators are coming to kill him. Anckarström switches cloaks with Gustave and tells him to leave - "I will deal with the conspirators." Gustave refuses to leave without Amelia, but she threatens to remove her veil if he doesn't. Gustave approaches anckarström and orders him to escort Amelia to the city. He cannot talk to her or even look at her. Once at the gates to the city, they are to go in opposite directions. Amelia bids Gustave to leave before the conspirators arrive to kill him. (Odi tu come fremono cupi) Anckarström, checking the progress of the conspirators joins Amelia in encouraging Gustave to leave. "Save yourself! The life you cast away is the life of your people." Gustave declares himself as much a traitor as the conspirators for betraying his close friend. "If I were innocent, I would stay and defy them … No! I fly!" He calls upon God to protect Amelia and leaves.
The conspirators enter promising to end Gustave's life. Anckarström suddenly asks them what they are doing there as they realize their intended prey is not there. Ribbing wants to see the woman's face as Anckarström threatens him with his sword. They are almost to the point of fighting when Amelia removes her veil. Anckarström is dumb founded as he realizes Gustave's "lover" was his wife. Horn and Ribbing, not knowing of Gustave's deception mock Anckarström for coming here with his wife. Anckarström declares that this is how he is repaid for saving Gustave's life. "He has broken my heart!" Amelia declares her lonliness and wonders who will comforts her. Anckarström approaches Ribbing and Horn and asks them to meet at his house in the morning. At first they think it is for an apology at which Anckarström tells them no - something quite different. The conspirators leave laughing and commenting on how the tragedy became a farce. Filled with rage and alone with Amelia, Anckarström tells her he will take her to the city gates as he promised. In the distance the conspirators are heard mocking Anckarström as he leads Amelia off-stage.
Setting: A study in Anckarström's house.
Anckarström and Amelia enter and he tells her that all her pleas are in vain - she must die. Amelia tells him that she loved Gustave for only a moment. She never dishonored Anckarström's name. This enrages Anckarström who brandishes his sword and tells her once again that, "Blood is demanded, and you shall die." Amelia says so be it and falls to her knees begging to see her son one last time. (Morrò, ma prima in grazia). Anckarström tells her to rise and leave. He will allow her to see her son again, but she must hide her shame and his dishonor. She leaves the room.
Alone, Anckarström notes that Amelia should not pay with her blood, but his treacherous best friend will provide his vendication. This is how he will avenge his tears. (Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima) He turns to a potrait of Gustave and declares it is he who has poisoned his universe. He anguishes over his lost paradise and proclaims only hatred remains where once resided bliss and love.
Horn and Ribbing enter and Anckarström tells them they are alone. "Your plans for Gustave's death are known to me." He shows them some letters declaring them to be the proof of his accusation. At first they think he wants to destroy them, but he tells them no he wants to join them. To further dispel their suspicions, he offers his son as his pledge: "Kill him if I fail you." They accept his sudden change in feelings and join him in proclaiming their desire for vengance on Gustave. Anckarström asks that they allow him to kill Gustave. Horn and Ribbing resist as each insists upon their own motivations. Anckarström tells them they will draw lots to decide the killer. He takes a vase from the fireplace. Horn writes each of their names on a slip of paper which is inspected by each. The papers are then thrown into the vase as Amelia enters. She tells Anckarström that Oscar is here with an invitation from the King. Anckarström tells her that Oscar can wait and for her to remain. He then tells Horn and Ribbing that she knows nothing of their plans and leads her to the vase on the table. He tells her that there are three names in the vase and that she is to draw one of them. She questions him at which he tells her with a terrible demeanor to obey him and ask no further questions. Amelia knows she is a party to some bloody deed. She draws a name and hands it to Anckarström who gives it to Horn. Horn accepts the folded paper, reads it to himself, and sadly reads Anckarström's name aloud. Anckarström victoriously proclaims his happiness at being chosen. The conspirators declare that Gustave will pay for the pain he has caused his country while Amelia realizes their target.
Anckarström goes to the door and calls for Oscar. He enters dressed in costume and accompanied with two other men who are also in mask. He goes to Amelia and tells her that Gustave has invited her and Anckarström to a masked ball that evening. Amelia refuses the invitation as Anckarström asks if the King will be there. Oscar answers affirmatively and the conspirators proclaim it a great opportunity. Anckarström accepts the invitation and tells Oscar he and his wife will be there. Horn and Ribbing tell each other they will be there also.
Oscar thinks aloud about the excitement of the ball while Amelia asks if she must go to see the noblest of men murdered. Anckarström pictures Gustave dead in the midst of the dancers. Horn and Ribbing proclaim their desire to see their bloody plot fulfilled. Amelia thinks about warning Gustave and decides possibly that Ulrica would do it. Aside from the others, the conspirators decide their on costumes and a password to aide in their recognition of each other. The password is decided - Death and the inevitible is set in motion.
Setting: A sumptuous private room of the King.
Alone, Gustave wonders if Amelia is safe. Sadly, he decides that Anckarström must be sent away with Amelia and his love remain unsatisfied. (Forse la soglia attinse) He is about to sign the order when he stops. "Why do I still hesitate? It is my duty!" He signs the paper and places it in his breast-pocket. He comments he has signed his sacrifice. He wonders at the dark feeling that assaults his consciousness. He feels that to see her again would mean death. Music from inside the Palace startles him as he realizes the Ball is about to begin. Oscar enters with a letter from an unkown woman. Gustave reads the letter and declares it a warning of an impending attempt on his life. He fears that if he does not go to the ball, he will be thought a coward. He decides he must go to the ball. Oscar leaves to get ready and Gustave exults in the thoughts of seeing Amelia one last time.
Setting: A vast and rich Ballroom splendidly illuminated and prepared for the festivities.
The scene has changed quickly during the interlude and opens to the ballroom filled with guests in splendid costumes. The crowd proclaims their joy at such an event. (Fervono amori e danzi) The conspirators enter in their agreed costumes: Blue dominos with Scarlet sashes. Anckarström, dressed similarily, cautiously approaches them. Horn quietly whispers, "Death" and Anckarström visciously replies, "Yes Death, but he is not coming." They are dejected by the news when they realize they are being watched. They separate, but Oscar, the person observing them, follows Anckarström. He tells anckarström that he knows who he is as he removes Oscar's mask and identifies him. Anckarström chides Oscar for sneaking out to the ball while the King is asleep. Oscar replies that the King is present. Anckarström asks where he is and goads Oscar into telling him the King's costume. Oscar teasingly tells Anckarström that he should not reveal the very thing the King wants to hide. (Saper Vorreste) He says he can keep a secret and will not reveal it. A group of dancing couples suddenly cross between them separating them. Anckarström rejoins Oscar and once again asks for a description of Gustave's dress. Oscar is worried about Anckarström not respecting his confidence at which Anckarström takes offense. Anckarström finally tells Oscar it is of a serious matter that he speak to Gustave and he will be held responsible if he does not point the King out. Oscar says fine and reveals the King's disguise. Anckarström goes to ask Oscar one more thing, but Oscar leaves adding that he has said too much already.
On stage, several dancers begin to perform for the crowd. Anckarström approaches his fellow conspirators as Gustave enters pensively. Amelia approaches him from behind and asks why he is here. Gustave asks if she is the one who wrote the letter and she bids him once more to leave. He asks her identity and she refuses to tell him. Sobbing, she tells him she would give anything for his life. At this, Gustave recognizes her as amelia, his angel. She tells him she loves him and once again warns him of the plot against him. He tells her as long as she loves him he does not care about his fate. He adds that tomorrow her and her husband are going back to her native homeland. He tells her it breaks his heart, but she must go. He starts to leave, but bids her a last farewell which she returns. Anckarström suddenly comes forward and stabs Gustave. "Take my farewell also!" Wounded, Gustave collapses to the floor as Oscar runs to him. He points at Anckarström and proclaims him to be the assassin. The crowd surrounds anckarström and tears his mask off. They call for Death to the traitor, but Gustave calls for his release. Gustave goes on to tell Anckarström that Amelia was innocent and her virtue remains intact. He pulls out the order he just moments ago signed and hands it to Anckarström. He reads the order and expresses remorse for his actions. Amelia is torn between her blood-stained villainous husband and his dying victim. Horn and Ribbing are still in the room as Gustave pardons all of them. The crowd calls upon God to save this generous sould as Gustave bids a farewell to his country and subjects. He falls dead and the crowd proclaims it to be a night of horror!
Copyright © 1996, Stephen L. Parker.