Aida is an opera by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. It is pronounced “ah-EE-dah”. It is sometimes spelt Aïda. It is one of the most well-known of all grand operas. There are several scenes which can be staged with very lavish scenery. The singers must have very powerful voices, especially in Act II, which has a lot of music for the big chorus.
The opera, which is divided into four acts is based on a story written by a French Egyptologist called Auguste Mariette. The librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni wrote the words for Verdi to set to music. The opera was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871. It soon became very popular in opera houses in Italy and throughout the world.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast,
24 December 1871. Conductor: Giovanni Bottesini
8 February 1872. Conductor: Franco Faccio
|Aida, an Ethiopian princess||soprano||Antonietta Anastasi-Pozzoni||Teresa Stolz|
|The King of Egypt||bass||Tommaso Costa||Paride Pavoleri|
|Amneris, daughter of the King||mezzo-soprano||Eleonora Grossi||Maria Waldmann|
|Radames, Captain of the Guard||tenor||Pietro Mongini||Giuseppe Fancelli|
|Amonasro, King of Ethiopia||baritone||Francesco Steller||Francesco Pandolfini|
|Ramfis, high Priest||bass||Paolo Medini||Ormando Maini|
|A messenger||tenor||Luigi Stecchi-Bottardi||Luigi Vistarini|
|Voice of a Priestess||soprano||Marietta Allievi|
|Priests, priestesses, ministers, captains, soldiers, officials, Ethiopians, slaves and prisoners, Egyptians, animals and chorus|
The story of the opera [change]
The story is supposed to take place in the days of Ancient Egypt, several thousand years ago. No exact date is given.
Act 1 [change]
Scene 1: A hall in the palace of the King of Egypt.
The Egyptians have been having a war with the Ethiopians, who want to invade their country. Radames is a young Egyptian soldier. The high priest tells him that the Ethiopians might soon attack again. Radames would like to be made the head of the Egyptian army. He wants this, not just to get military glory, but because he hopes it will enable him to marry Aida. Aida is an Ethiopian girl who has been captured and made a slave of Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt. Aida is actually the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, but the Egyptians do not know that. The reason that Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia, wants to invade Egypt again is to try to free his daughter.
Amneris is in love with Radames. She would like him to be a military hero. She is worried that he is in love with someone else. She notices how he looks disturbed when Aida comes in and wonders whether she is the girl Radames loves.
The King, the High Priest, Ramfis, and the whole palace court enter. A messenger announces that the Ethiopians, led by King Amonasro, are marching towards Thebes. The King says that the Egyptians must fight the Ethiopians, and he makes Radames leader of the army. The crowd wish him good luck. Aida, too, wants Radames to be a hero, but also realizes that he will be fighting her own people.
Scene 2: Inside the Temple of Vulcan
Act 2 [change]
Scene 1: The chamber of Amneris
Act 2 takes place two years later. Ramades and the Egyptian army have won their battle against the Ethiopians. Dances take place to celebrate the victory. Amneris wants to find out whether Aida and Radames really do love one another. She talks to Aida. She pretends to be sorry that the Ethiopians (Aida’s people) have lost their battle. Aida says she cannot be happy until she knows what has happened to her father and brothers. Amneris now tells Aida a lie. She tells her that Radames has been killed. When Aida breaks down in tears, Amneris tells her that it was not true, and that Radames is alive. Aida is relieved to hear this. Amneris is now angry. She tells Aida that she knows she and Radames are in love. She tells her that she herself also loves him. She threatens Aida, telling her that she, Aida, will crawl in the dust while she, Amneris, is made queen.
Scene 2: The grand gate of the city of Thebes
Radames and the Egyptian army march into the city to celebrate their victory. The Ethiopians who have been captured are brought before the crowd. One of them is the Ethiopian king, Amonasro, father of Aida, although the Egyptians do not know who he is. Aida rushes to her father. She explains to the crowd that Amonasro is her father. Amonasro tells the Egyptians a lie: he says that the Ethiopian king (he himself, of course) has been killed in battle. Aida, Amonasro and the captured Ethiopians all plead with the Egyptian King to save them, but the Egyptians want them to be put to death. Radames pleads with the king to spare Aida and Amonasro. The King rewards Radames by saying he can be King of Egypt and that he can marry his daughter, Amneris.
Act 3 [change]
On the banks of the Nile, near the Temple of Isis
As Amneris goes to pray before her wedding, the priests chant prayers. Aida wonders why Radames wants to meet her. Amonasro goes to Aida and tells her she must find out from her lover, Radames, which way the Egyptian army are going to march to fight the Ethiopians. Aida refuses to do this at first, but her father says that, if she doesn’t and her people are killed, it will be her fault. She changes her mind.
When Radames comes she suggests to him that they flee together. Radames refuses at first, but Aida manages to persuade him. He tells her the route the army are going to take. Amonasro, who has been listening secretly, then comes out of hiding and reveals that he is the King of Ethiopia. Radames feels he has betrayed his country because he revealed a military secret. He refuses to flee with Aida and her father. The guards capture him.
Act 4 [change]
Scene 1: A hall in the Temple of Justice. To one side is the door leading to Radames' prison cell
Amneris asks to see Radames. Radames refuses to defend himself. He is relieved to hear Aida is still alive and that she hopes to get back to her own country. Amneris does not like to hear him say this. Radames is tried before the court. He refuses to defend himself, and he is sentenced to death.
Scene 2: The Vault in the Temple
Amneris wants to try to save Radames, who is a prisoner in a dark vault. Radames thinks he is alone. He is astonished and unbelievably happy when he finds Aida there. She had hidden herself in the vault. She tells him that she wants to die with him. That is their fate.
The Music [change]
The music of the opera is excellent all the way through. There are quiet songs of incredible beauty as well as big chorus numbers. The music is all famous, but among the most well-known parts are the aria that Radames sings near the beginning of act One in which he dreams of victory in battle and marrying Aida, the Ethiopian slave. The song is called Celeste Aida ("Heavenly Aïda"). The Chorus in Scene ii of Act II, Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside ("Glory to Egypt, to Isis!") is one of the most famous marches ever written.
- The New Kobbe’s Opera Book; ed. The Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie; Ebury Press, 2000; ISBN 009 1814103