FORTUNE TELLING IN THE HIGH ARTS: A “Witches Den” in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”

In 2005 I started to learn Italian. Thanks to my good fortune my young Italian teacher was an Opera singer. He invited the whole class to see him on his first supporting character role of Christiano in “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Giuseppe Verdi.

All my life I have enjoyed classical music and the voice of Luciano Pavarotti moved me. So I took my new role of Opera aficionado seriously and went to my school’s Music Library and got a video of Pavarotti in the role of the King, and the libretto in Italian, in order to be fully prepared to enjoy the performance knowing the story in advance.

The story is the political assassination of a King. The interesting psychic twist is that the King had been foretold by Ulrica, the town’s fortune teller, that he was going to be killed at the hands of his best friend. The King, disregarded this advice because he could not believe such a thing could ever happen, and lo and behold, he reached such tragic ending.

In the first scene we see Christiano, a loyal sailor in the service of the King, who disappointed that his loyalty had never been rewarded, consults the fortune teller, Ulrica, about his financial future (that certainly sounds familiar). Ulrica announces that he was going to be recognized and given a reward in gold from the King’s own hands, that very same night. Christiano is happy to receive such good news and pays the fortune teller gladly with one gold coin (hint).

The King, disguised as a commoner had been hiding in the audience, and after hearing this, decides to secretly deposit a bag full of gold coins in the sailor’s pouch. The sailor finds it and every one cheers. Amused by the whole situation the King decides to get himself a reading (“For entertainment purposes only”) and when he approaches Ulrica, she with her psychic powers, knows that he is the King and reveals his identity. Amazed by the clairvoyant he proceeds to get a palm reading. She sees in the lines in his hand the tragic end of his life and warns him. But the King, exercising his “Free Will,” disregards the predictions as impossible. I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing the details, but you know the ending.

Needless to say, I identified with Ulrica and fully enjoyed her interaction with the young, handsome sailor, interpreted by my teacher. But what bothered me about Giuseppe’s representation of this gifted psychic was that, following the prejudice of his historical time, he portrays the clairvoyant and her wise advice as a “thing of the devil.” I was very disturbed by this for weeks. I wanted to write a poem about it, setting the story straight from the point of view of Ulrica, by then, my alter ego.

Because my first language is Spanish, I was acquiring Italian at the speed of light, and I had written a little haiku in Italian describing my handsome teacher’s voice. But nothing prepared me for what happened to me one Saturday night when I came home after partying with a romantic interest.

I started hearing voices in my head retelling the scene at the so called “witches den” by the sea. The voices came in different foreign languages, a mix of Spanish, Portuguese (which I speak fluently) and my then rudimentary Italian. I dedicated more than three hours to transcribe what these voices were telling me. They were the Muses indeed, that through the centuries came to me, because they found that I was receptive to hear their message. In more than three hours from one thirty in the morning until five, I transcribed as fast as I could what several voices were whispering.

It was an explanation of the Law of Karma. The Law of Cause and Effect. Ulrica explained to Christiano that he did not need to be afraid of having his destiny read from the palm of his hand. She said, that because he had been a good man in his past lives, the God and the Goddess, at the moment of his conception decided on his fate, so his flesh will form the lines of his hand in such a way that she could read his destiny. I had never thought about the bases of Palm Reading in that way.

I am happy to announce that this long poem in Italian, which offers the scene between the King, the sailor and Ulrica, the Fortune Teller, will become a piece of musical theatre, thanks to a young Italian composer who has interest in writing music for it.

So, there you go, have the lines of your palm read, and don’t be afraid to discover your Karma.

Iris Mystic tarot
Nov. 5, 2009

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 7:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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