In 1857, Verdi was called on to write an opera for the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, and he immediately began his search for the perfect story. His initial idea was King Lear by Shakespeare, but the lack of time available forced him to fall back on a libretto by Scribe, Gustave III ou Le bal masqué, which had already been set to music by Auber and by Mercadante. The story was inspired by actual events from 1792; the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden by one of his officers during a ball. The subject was undoubtedly controversial, the on-stage murder of a monarch would not pass unnoticed by the Neapolitan censors, who in fact imposed numerous cuts and modifications. But the writer was too fond of the 18th-century traits and the lively French-influenced style of his new opera to be able to accept, among the many requests, the moving of the action to the 12th century, where it would have been impossible “to find a princeling, a duke, a devil, even from the North, who had seen a little of the world and experienced the atmosphere of Louis XIV”. With its Neapolitan debut thus grounded, Un ballo in maschera was staged at the Apollo Theatre in Rome, where it was performed on 17 February 1859.