Swedish opera to feature Olof Palme

Murdered Swedish prime minister Olof Palme will be the main protagonist of a new production of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "A Masked Ball" (Un Ballo in maschera) to be staged next year, Sweden's Malmö Opera said on Wednesday.

The production will premiere on February 11, 2006, just weeks before the 20th anniversary of Palme’s assassination on February 28, 1986.

As originally written in 1859, the opera was about the 1792 assassination of Sweden’s King Gustav III, though Italian censorship forced Verdi to change the characters.

“When Verdi wrote ‘A Masked Ball’ it was not a biographical opera, it was about the mythology of Gustav III. And there is a similar mythology surrounding Palme,” Malmö Opera spokeswoman Catarina Ek told AFP.

“Both men were very strong personalities that you either loved or hated. There are obvious parallels,” she said.

However, “this is Verdi’s ‘A Masked Ball’ and not an opera about Olof Palme,” she said.

The lyrics will be sung in Swedish, with the same score and plot.

“We are not changing the story, just setting it in modern times where Gustav III is in our production called ‘prime minister’. And they will sing ‘Olof’ instead of ‘Gustav III’ and the character will resemble Olof Palme,” Ek said.

“Un Ballo in Maschera” was one of Verdi’s most controversial operas.

The Swedish king fell victim to a widespread aristocratic conspiracy in 1792 and was shot in the back during a midnight opera at Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera.

Italian authorities found adultery in high places and the murder of a European king too shocking to be staged in Italy, a monarchy, and forced him to change the location.

Verdi thus set his scene in the pre-independence United States, changing the king of Sweden to the governor of Boston and altering parts of the score. The opera was a great success and it was not until 1935 that the “Swedish” version was first staged.

Palme was strolling down a busy Stockholm street on the night of February 28, 1986 with his wife Lisbet after an evening at the cinema when an unidentified assailant gunned him down.

The attacker fled up a stairway over a tunnel.

Despite tens of thousands of tips and leads in the almost two decades since the crime, the murder has never been solved, and the weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver, has never been found.

“We don’t resolve the murder. We don’t know who the killer is. But there will be a person standing near a stairway over a tunnel that could be the assassin,” Ek said.