A room in the royal palace in Stockholm, in March 1792.
A solicitous group of officers and gentlemen is waiting for the King, to wake up, while another group of men belonging to the rival faction, which includes counts Horn and Ribbing, stands to one side. Announced by the page Oscar, in comes the King, a natural and amiable person who has the well-being of his subjects at heart. However, Oscar immediately hands him the list of the guests to the ball and in it the King reads the name of Amelia, the woman he loves, therefore he concentrates his mind and gives himself up to amorous ecstasy. Then the Captain Anckarström arrives: he is Amelia’s husband and he swears he will be absolutely faithful to the King in the face of all dangers associated with his rule, in particular in the face of a plot that is being hatched behind his back. Announced by Oscar, a Judge enters asking to exile a certain Arvidson, fortuneteller who is under suspicion. However Oscar defends her, amusingly describing her as she foretells the future, and then the King, taking no more notice of the Judge, invites everyone present to disguise themselves and pay a visit to the enchantress: he himself will dress up as a fisherman, and may all worries be forgotten in favour of pleasure.
In the fortune-teller’s den.
In her vast dwelling-place, accessible by means of two doors, a staircase and a secret entrance, Arvidson stands in front of a large crowd and slowly and grimly invokes the Devil. The King enters, and a moment later the enchantress exults having felt the awaited presence of the Devil. After foretelling the future for Christian, a modest and likeable sailor, Arvidson hears someone knocking on the secret door: she opens it, listens to the words of one of Amelia’s servants and makes everybody leave because she has to receive a distinguished person in private. That person is Amelia who is seized by an irresistible love; as a remedy Arvidson advises her to drink a tisane made from a herb to be picked at night in the place where executions are carried out. However the King, who was hidden from sight, has heard everything and now knows that his beloved returns his love. After Amelia’s departure, the scene once again fills with people. The King, the bogus fisherman, consults Arvidson while enjoying himself immensely and getting everyone present to join in, but the enchantress gets annoyed and, on reading his hand, foretells that he will soon die: his death will be caused by the first person to shake his hand on that day: that person is Anckarström who joins the crowd and reveals the identity of his well-loved master to all. Christian returns and urges the sailors and common people to bow down to their ruler and, with the exception of the conspirators, everyone warmly sings the King’s praises.
In the desolate and dismal field, where the fatal herb flourishes.
On a rise a frightened Amelia kneels down, prays, stands up and then comes down, almost in a state of despair brought on by the pains of love from which she is going to free herself by means of magic; at the stroke of midnight the imagined vision of a ghost makes her fall to her knees to ask for divine mercy. Suddenly the King appears and tries to soothe the woman by declaring his love for her but also assuring her of his honour. Pressed in this way, Amelia finally confesses her passion but, if the Kingrejoices, she only despairs all the more. Someone approaches: it is Anckarström who is always following his master in need of protection. Amelia lets out a cry and lowers her veil. Anckarström recounts that he has seen and heard the conspirators who are really close. Therefore the Count must flee and Renato promises under oath that he will accompany the unidentified lady to the city gates. The two remain alone and immediately the Counts Horn and Ribbing and the conspirators come down from the high ground. Disappointed to find that the King is absent, they are ironical and at least want to take a look at the beautiful woman whose veil, by ill chance, falls in the rush. Amelia is exposed, the conspirators smile at the eccentricity of the conjugal affair, but Anckarström is filled with anger and, nursing only thoughts of revenge against his wife’s seducer, invites the conspirators to come to his house on the following day.
The study in the Captain Anckarström.
Husband and wife enter, but even though she protests her innocence, he has made up his mind to kill her. Pathetically Amelia asks for and is granted permission to embrace her small son and then she goes out. Then Anckarström decides to take revenge directly on the King whose portrait he stares at: he rails against the traitor but cannot help but nostalgically think back to the divine beauty of his lost love. The Counts Horn and Ribbing enter: they learn of Anckarström’s wish to join the conspiracy. Fate wills that it should be Anckarström who strikes the common enemy; Oscar comes to invite everyone to a masked ball that very evening, thereby also providing the opportunity to carry out the plan, while Anckarström exults and Amelia despairs.
In the royal palace.
In his magnificent study with curtains at the back, the King imagines Amelia is be safe and sound, but he knows that there is no honourable way out of their drama: so he signs the relative papers thereby ensuring that Anckarström and his family will be sent back to your land. As the ball begins, Oscar delivers the King a note which says that an attempt on the latter’s life will be made during the ball, but the King overlooks it and exults for a last time at the thought of his great love. The curtains open and the chorus lets out shouts of joy at the spectacular masked ball. While the conspirators, dressed in blue domino, huddle together, Oscar jokes with Anckarström to whom he ends up by capriciously revealing the King’s disguise, a black cloak with a red ribbon on the front. Gustav and Amelia (who wrote the note), both in disguise, meet again for a moment and greet each other, but their resigned and passionate greeting gives way to the mortal one from Anckarström who wounds his alleged rival and is recognised. The King orders him to be released: he swears to Amelia’s innocence, he gives Anckarström an oder for repatriation, he forgives everyone and, mourned by all, he dies.