Major Operas | Aida by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

Aida, set in Ancient Egypt, was not composed to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as has often been suggested. Nor was it commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt to mark the opening of the Cairo Opera House that same year.

It happened that the French Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette, keeper of monuments to the Egyptian government, suggested the opera to the Khedive as a suitable celebration for the canal, but was thwarted by delays in getting the libretto to Verdi.

Written by Antonio Ghislanzoni, from a text by Camille du Locle, the libretto did not reach the composer until 1870 and the Cairo Opera House did not stage Aida until 24 December 1871. The opera was a huge success and within a few weeks, on 8 February 1872, it was premiered at La Scala, Milan, followed by New York on 26 November 1873. After triumphing throughout Europe, it had its London premiere on 22 June 1876. Aida was the complete opera, containing every feature at Verdi’s disposal – spectacle, large-scale choruses, dance, pageantry, memorable arias, incisive characterization – and all of it overlaid with the semi-oriental harmonies that formed an impression in music of its exotic location.

Composed: 1870
Premiered: 1871, Cairo
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, after Auguste Mariette and Camille du Locle

Act I

During the war between Egypt and Ethiopia, Aida, daughter of Amonasro, the Ethiopian king, has been captured and given as a slave to Amneris, daughter of the Egyptian king. Ethiopian forces are invading to reclaim her. Radamès, unaware of Aida’s identity, is in love with her. Ramfis, the high priest, informs him that the gods have decided who is to lead the Egyptian forces; Radamès hopes he has been chosen. Amneris enters; she loves Radamès and, suspecting he loves Aida, attempts to disguise her jealousy towards her slave. The king enters, with the news that Radamès is to lead the troops against the Ethiopians; the people hail Radamès. Aida is torn between her love for him and that for her country. She prays for mercy. In the temple of Vulcan, the priests prepare Radamès for war and give him a sacred sword.

Act II

The Egyptians have triumphed in the battle and Amneris prepares for the forthcoming celebrations. She tricks Aida into revealing her love for Radamès by declaring him to be dead and observing her reactions. Amneris then discloses the deception and swears vengeance. Aida struggles to prevent herself from revealing her real identity.

Radamès arrives in a triumphal procession and is presented before the king and his daughter. The Ethiopian prisoners, which include Amonasro, are also presented. Amonasro signals to Aida to keep quiet, and then announces that the Ethiopian king died in battle. Radamès requests as his reward that the prisoners be freed. Ramfis advises the king against this as it could lead to a rebellion; a compromise is reached and all will be freed with the exception of Aida and Amonasro. Radamès is also...

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