Gustave III (Auber)

Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué (Gustavus III, or The Masked Ball) is an opéra historique or grand opera in five acts by Daniel Auber, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe.

Performance history

It received its first performance at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra on 27 February 1833, with costumes designed by Eugène Lami and Paul Lormier, and sets by Léon Feuchère (Act I and Act V, scene 2), Jules Diéterle (Act II), Alfred (Act III), Pierre-Luc-Charles Ciceri (Act IV), René-Humanité Philastre and Charles-Antoine Cambon (Act V, scene 1). The opera was a major success for the composer, with 168 performances until 1853.

Ellen Creathorne Clayton has translated French critic Jules Janin's description of the last act, which was often presented separately from the opera, as follows:

I believe," says Jules Janin, "that never, even at the Opéra, was seen a spectacle more grand, more rich, more curious, more magnificent, that the fifth act of Gustave. It is a fairlyland of beautiful women, of gauze, of velvet, of grotesqueness, of elegance, of good taste and of bad taste, of details, of learned researches, of esprit, of madness and of whimsicality — of every thing in a word, which is suggestive of the eighteenth century. When the beautiful curtain is raised, you find yourself in an immense ballroom." The stage of the Grand Opéra, the largest in Paris, is admirably adapted for masked balls, and the side-scenes being removed, the stage was surrounded a salon, the decorations of which corresponded with those of the boxes. "This salle de bal is overlooked by boxes, these boxes are filled with masks, who play the part of spectrators. At their feet, constantly moving, is the circling crowd, disguised in every imaginable costume, and dominoes of every conceivable hue. Harlequins of all fashions, clowns, peddlers, what shall I say? One presents the appearance of a tub, another of a guitar; his neighbor is disguised en botte d'asperges; that one is a mirror, this a fish; there is a bird, here is a time-piece — you can hardly imagine the infinite confusion. Peasants, marquises, princes, monks, I know not what, mingle in one rainbow-hued crowd. It is impossible to describe this endless madness, this whirl, this bizarrerie, on which the rays of two thousand wax tapers, in their crustal lustres, pour an inundation of mellow light. I, who am so well accustomed to spectacles like this — I, who am, unfortunately, not easily disposed to be surprised — I am yet dazzled with this radiant scene."[1]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,[2] 27 February 1833
(Conductor: - )
Gustave III, King of Sweden tenor Adolphe Nourrit
Ankastrom,[3] his friend bass Nicolas-Prosper Levasseur
Amélie, Countess of Ankastrom, in love with Gustave soprano Cornélie Falcon
Oscar, the King's page soprano Julie Dorus-Gras
Arvedson, fortune teller mezzo-soprano Louise-Zulmé Dabadie-Leroux
Dehorn, conspirator bass Henri-Bernard Dabadie
Warting, conspirator tenor Alexis Dupont
A chamberlain tenor Hyacinthe Trévaux
Armfelt, Minister of Justice[4] bass Ferdinand Prévost
Général Kaulbart, Minister of War[4] bass Pierre François Wartel
Christian tenor Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol
A servant of Ankastrom singer François-Alphonse Hens[5]
Roslin, painter silent Ferdinand[6]
Sergell, sculptor[7] silent Henri[8]
Chorus: courtiers, deputies of state, military officers in the service of the King, royal guards, sailors, soldiers, people


Place: Stockholm
Time: 15 and 16 March 1792

The opera concerns some aspects of the real-life assassination of Gustavus III, King of Sweden.

The major aspects of the plot can be found first in Giuseppe Verdi's planned opera, Gustavo III, which was never performed as written, but whose major elements were incorporated into a revised version of the story in the opera which eventually became Un ballo in maschera.


  • Gustave III: Laurence Dale, Rima Tawil, Christian Treguier, French Lyrique Orchestra; Intermezzo Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Michel Swierczewski (Arion, 1993)
  • The overture and ballet music from Gustave III appears at the end of the second disc of Richard Bonynge's recording of Auber's Le domino noir.



  1. Clayton 1865, pp. 324–325.
  2. The cast is listed in the Paris libretto (Scribe 1833) and Tamvaco 2000, p. 89, except for the silent roles of Roslin and Sergell, which are listed in the Amsterdam libretto (Scribe 1835). The cast is also listed, with some minor differences, in Casaglia 2005.
  3. The role name Ankastrom is often spelled Ankarstrom or Anckarstrom in the secondary literature, presumably influenced by the Swedish spelling of the name of the real-life assassin Jacob Johan Anckarström. However, the role name is spelled Ankastrom in the librettos published in Paris (Scribe 1833) and Amsterdam (Scribe 1835), as well as the one in Scribe's 1841 Oeurvres complètes (vol. 2, p. 3).
  4. The role names of the Ministers of Justice and War are given in the libretto text, e.g., Scribe 1833, p. 4.
  5. In a footnote Tamvaco 2000, p. 716, states: "Le ténor François Alphonse Hens était né à Paris le 26 mai 1806." In the index, p. 1261, he is listed as "2e basse".
  6. Possibly the dancer with the stage name Ferdinand, real name Jean La Brunière de Médicis (listed in the index of Tamvaco 2000, p. 1251).
  7. Identified as Jean Tobie Sergell by Scribe 1833, p. 3 (footnote).
  8. Possibly the dancer-choreographer Henry (real name Louis-Henri Bannachon) or the bass-baritone (François-Louis) Henry (both listed in the index of Tamvaco 2000, p. 1261).


  • Budden, Julian, The Operas of Verdi, Volume 2: From Il Trovatore to La Forza del destino. London: Cassell, 1984. ISBN 9780195200683 (hardcover) ISBN 9780195204506 (paperback).
  • Booklet notes to the Bonynge recording listed above
  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). Almanacco. "27 Febbraio 1833" at AmadeusOnline, accessed 30 October 2008.
  • Clayton, Ellen Creathorne (1865), Queens of Song. Being Memoirs of Some of the Most Celebrated Female Vocalists Who Have Performed on the Lyric Stage from the Earliest Days of Opera to the Present Time. New York: Harper & Bros.
  • Schneider, Herbert (1992). "Gustave III", vol. 2, pp. 583–584, in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-228-9.
  • Scribe, Eugène (1833). Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué, libretto. Paris: Librairie de l'Académie Royale de Musique. View at Google Books.
  • Scribe, Eugène (1835). Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué, libretto for a performance in Amsterdam on 3 September 1835. Amsterdam: A. J. van Tetroode. View at Google Books.
  • Scribe, Eugène (1841). Oeuvres complètes de M. Eugène Scribe, membre de l'Académie française, nouvelle édition, tome deuxième. Paris: Furne; Paris: Aimé André. View at Google Books.
  • Tamvaco, Jean-Louis (2000). Les Cancans de l'Opéra. Chroniques de l'Académie Royale de Musique et du théâtre, à Paris sous les deux restorations (2 volumes, in French). Paris: CNRS Editions. ISBN 9782271056856.
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