Giuseppi Verdi’s A Masked Ball is based on a real historical event far removed from its New England setting, says Babs Lieberman of the Lyric Opera lecture corps. “The event was the assassination of Sweden’s King Gustavus III in 1792 at a masked ball that took place at the Stockholm Opera House, which he had built.” Besides being an opera fan (not alone grounds for regicide), Gustavus had riled his nobles by reducing their power. They responded by killing him. When Verdi and librettist Antonio Somma tried to translate this story into an opera for production in Naples, they ran up against the censors–the murder of a king hit too close to home for a city then under the rule of Napoleon III. “They forced Verdi to change the location of the opera, and King Gustavus eventually became Governor Riccardo of colonial Boston,” murdered for lusting after his best friend’s wife. “The love interest was totally fabricated,” says Lieberman, and the idea of straitlaced Bostonians cutting loose at a masked ball might seem a stretch, but there’s always the music to carry it off. In more recent history, notes Lieberman, Marian Anderson broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera when she appeared in this work in the 1950s. A Masked Ball opens Saturday, February 15, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with Neil Shicoff, Veronica Villarroel, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in leading roles. There will be ten performances through March 22. Lieberman will discuss the plot, background, and music on February 20 at 7 PM at the Prospect Heights Public Library, 12 N. Elm in Prospect Heights. Other Masked Ball lectures this week are scheduled for 2 PM February 15 at the Evanston Public Library, Church and Orrington in Evanston; 2 PM February 16 at the Orland Park Public Library, 14760 S. Park in Orland Park; 3 PM February 16 at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton in Arlington Heights; 7:30 PM February 17 at the River Forest Public Library, 735 Lathrop in River Forest; and 7 PM February 18 at the Niles Public Library, 6960 Oakton in Niles. The lectures are free; call 312-827-5912 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Isabel Cutler.