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Aida (Italian: [aˈiːda]), sometimes spelled Aïda, is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario often attributed to French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, although Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz has argued that the scenario was actually written by Temistocle Solera. Aida was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871, conducted by Giovanni Bottesini.
Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, commissioned Verdi to write the opera for performance in January 1871, paying him 150,000 francs, but the premiere was delayed because of the Franco-Prussian War. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, nor that of the Khedivial Opera House, which opened with Verdi's Rigoletto in the same year. Verdi had been asked to compose an ode for the opening of the Canal, but declined on the grounds that he did not write "occasional pieces".
Verdi originally chose to write a brief orchestral prelude instead of a full overture for the opera. He then composed an overture of the "potpourri" variety to replace the original prelude. However, in the end he decided not to have the overture performed because of its—his own words—"pretentious insipidity". This overture, never used today, was given a rare broadcast performance by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on 30 March 1940, but was never commercially issued.
Aida met with great acclaim when it finally opened in Cairo on 24 December 1871. The costumes and accessories for the premiere were designed by Auguste Mariette, who also oversaw the design and construction of the sets, which were made in Paris by the Opéra's scene painters Auguste Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (Acts 1 and 4) and Edouard Despléchin and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Acts 2 and 3), and shipped to Cairo. Although Verdi did not attend the premiere in Cairo, he was most dissatisfied with the fact that the audience consisted of invited dignitaries, politicians and critics, but no members of the general public. He therefore considered the Italian (and European) premiere, held at La Scala, Milan on 8 February 1872, and a performance in which he was heavily involved at every stage, to be its real premiere.
Verdi had also written the role of Aida for the voice of Teresa Stolz, who sang it for the first time at the Milan premiere. Verdi had asked her fiancé, Angelo Mariani, to conduct the Cairo premiere, but he declined, so Giovanni Bottesini filled the gap. The Milan Amneris, Maria Waldmann, was his favourite in the role and she repeated it a number of times at his request.
Aida was received with great enthusiasm at its Milan premiere. The opera was soon mounted at major opera houses throughout Italy, including the Teatro Regio di Parma (20 April 1872), the Teatro di San Carlo (30 March 1873), La Fenice (11 June 1873), the Teatro Regio di Torino (26 December 1874), the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (30 September 1877, with Giuseppina Pasqua as Amneris and Franco Novara as the King), and the Teatro Costanzi (8 October 1881, with Theresia Singer as Aida and Giulia Novelli as Amneris) among others.
Details of important national and other premieres of Aida follow:
In New York in 1949, a complete concert version of the opera was given, the first to be televised (on the NBC television network), conducted by Toscanini with Herva Nelli as Aida and Richard Tucker as Radamès. Due to the length of the opera, it was divided into two telecasts, preserved on kinescopes, and later released on home video by RCA and Testament. The audio portion of the broadcast, including some remakes in June 1954, was released on LP and CD by RCA Victor.
Aida continues to be a staple of the standard operatic repertoire and appears as number 12 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide between 2008 and 2013, with 272 performances.
As of 2007, the Metropolitan Opera alone has given more than 1,100 performances of the opera, making it the second most frequently performed work by the company behind La bohème.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast,|
24 December 1871
(Conductor: Giovanni Bottesini)
8 February 1872
La Scala, Milan
(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|
|Radamès, 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 the High Priestess||soprano||Marietta Allievi|
|Priests, priestesses, ministers, captains, soldiers, officials, Ethiopians, slaves and prisoners, Egyptians, animals and chorus|
The libretto does not specify a precise time period, so it is difficult to place the opera more specifically than the Old Kingdom. For the first production, Mariette went to great efforts to make the sets and costumes authentic. Given the consistent artistic styles throughout the 3000 year history of ancient Egypt, a given production does not particularly need to choose a specific time period within the larger frame of ancient Egyptian history.
Antecedent: The Egyptians have captured and enslaved Aida, an Ethiopian princess. An Egyptian military commander, Radamès, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris is in love with Radamès, although he does not return her feelings.
Scene 1: A hall in the King's palace; through the rear gate the pyramids and temples of Memphis are visible
Ramfis, the high priest of Egypt, tells Radamès, the young warrior, that war with the Ethiopians seems inevitable, and Radamès hopes that he will be chosen as the Egyptian commander (Ramfis, Radamès : Sì, corre voce l'Etiope ardisca / "Yes, it is rumored that Ethiopia dares once again to threaten our power").
Radamès dreams both of gaining victory on the battle field and of Aida, the Ethiopian slave, with whom he is secretly in love (Radamès: Se quel guerrier io fossi! ... Celeste Aida / "Heavenly Aida"). Aida, who is also secretly in love with Radamès, is the captured daughter of the Ethiopian King Amonasro, but her Egyptian captors are unaware of her true identity. Her father has invaded Egypt to deliver her from servitude.
Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian King, enters the hall. She too loves Radamès, but fears that his heart belongs to someone else (Radamès, Amneris: Quale insolita gioia nel tuo sguardo / "In your looks I trace a joy unwanted").
Aida appears and, when Radamès sees her, Amneris notices that he looks disturbed. She suspects that Aida could be her rival, but is able to hide her jealousy and approach Aida (Amneris, Aida, Radamès: Vieni, o diletta, appressati / "Come, O delight, come closer").
The King enters, along with the High Priest, Ramfis, and the whole palace court. A messenger announces that the Ethiopians, led by King Amonasro, are marching towards Thebes. The King declares war and proclaims that Radamès is the man chosen by the goddess Isis to be the leader of the army (The King, Messenger, Radamès, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Alta cagion v'aduna / "Oh fate o'er Egypt looming"). Upon receiving this mandate from the King, Radamès proceeds to the temple of Vulcan to take up the sacred arms (The King, Radamès, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Su! del Nilo al sacro lido / "On! Of Nilus' sacred river, guard the shores").
Alone in the hall, Aida feels torn between her love for her father, her country, and Radamès (Aida: Ritorna vincitor / "Return a conqueror").
Scene 2: Inside the Temple of Vulcan
Solemn ceremonies and dances by the priestesses take place (High Priestess, chorus, Radamès: Possente Ftha ... Tu che dal nulla / "O mighty Ptah"). This is followed by the installation of Radamès to the office of commander-in-chief (High Priestess, chorus, Radamès: Immenso Ftha .. Mortal, diletto ai Numi / "O mighty one, guard and protect!"). All present in the temple pray for the victory of Egypt and protection for their warriors (Nume, custode e vindice/ "Hear us, O guardian deity").
Scene 1: The chamber of Amneris
Dances and music to celebrate Radamès' victory take place (Chorus, Amneris: Chi mai fra gli inni e i plausi / "Our songs his glory praising"'). However, Amneris is still in doubt about Radamès' love and wonders whether Aida is in love with him. She tries to forget her doubt, entertaining her worried heart with the dance of Moorish slaves (Chorus, Amneris: Vieni: sul crin ti piovano / "Come bind your flowing tresses").
When Aida enters the chamber, Amneris asks everyone to leave. By falsely telling Aida that Radamès has died in the battle, she tricks her into professing her love for him. In grief, and shocked by the news, Aida confesses that her heart belongs to Radamès eternally (Amneris, Aida: Fu la sorte dell'armi a' tuoi funesta / "The battle's outcome was cruel for your people ...").
This confession fires Amneris with rage, and she plans on taking revenge on Aida. Ignoring Aida's pleadings (Amneris, Aida, chorus: Su! del Nilo al sacro lido / "Up! at the sacred shores of the Nile"), Amneris leaves her alone in the chamber.
Scene 2: The grand gate of the city of Thebes Radamès returns victorious and the troops march into the city (Chorus, Ramfis: Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside / "Glory to Egypt, to Isis!"). The Egyptian king decrees that on this day the triumphant Radamès may have anything he wishes. The Ethiopian captives are rounded up, and Amonasro appears among them. Aida immediately rushes to her father, but their true identities are still unknown to the Egyptians, save for the fact that they are father and daughter. Amonasro declares that the Ethiopian king (he himself) has been slain in battle. Aida, Amonasro, and the captured Ethiopians plead with the Egyptian King for mercy, but the Egyptians call for their death (Aida, Amneris, Radamès, The King, Amonasro, chorus: Che veggo! .. Egli? .. Mio padre! .. Anch'io pugnai / "What do I see?.. Is it he? My father?").
Claiming the reward promised by the King, Radamès pleads with him to spare the lives of the prisoners and to set them free. Gratefully, the King of Egypt declares Radamès to be his successor and to be his daughter's betrothed (Aida, Amneris, Radamès, The King, Amonasro, chorus: O Re: pei sacri Numi! .. Gloria all'Egitto / "O King, by the sacred gods ..."). Aida and Amonasro remain as hostages to ensure that the Ethiopians do not avenge their defeat.
Sung by Marie Rappold, 1916
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On the banks of the Nile, near the Temple of Isis
Prayers are said (Chorus, Ramfis, Amneris: O tu che sei d'Osiride / "O thou who to Osiris art ...") on the eve of Amneris and Radamès' wedding in the Temple of Isis. Outside, Aida waits to meet with Radamès as they had planned (Aida: Qui Radamès verra .. O patria mia / "Oh, my dear country!").
Amonasro appears and makes Aida agree to find out the location of the Egyptian army from Radamès (Aida, Amonasro: Ciel, mio padre! .. Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate / "Once again shalt thou gaze."). When he arrives, Amonasro hides behind a rock and listens to their conversation.
Radamès affirms that he will marry Aida (Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida .. Nel fiero anelito; Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti... Là, tra foreste vergini / "I see you again, my sweet Aida!"), and Aida convinces him to flee to the desert with her.
In order to make their escape easier, Radamès proposes that they use a safe route without any fear of discovery and reveals the location where his army has chosen to attack. Upon hearing this, Amonasro comes out of hiding and reveals his identity. Radamès feels dishonored. At the same time, Amneris and Ramfis leave the temple and, seeing Radamès with their enemy, call the guards. Amonasro and Aida try to convince Radamès to escape with them, but he refuses and surrenders to the imperial guards.
Scene 1: A hall in the Temple of Justice. To one side is the door leading to Radamès' prison cell
Amneris desires to save Radamès (L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia / "My hated rival has escaped me"). She calls for the guard to bring him to her.
She asks Radamès to deny the accusations, but Radamès refuses. Certain that, as punishment, he will be condemned to death, Amneris implores him to defend himself, but Radamès firmly refuses. He is relieved to know Aida is still alive and hopes she has reached her own country (Amneris, Radamès: Già i Sacerdoti adunansi / "Already the priests are assembling"). His decision hurts Amneris.
Radamès' trial takes place offstage; he does not reply to Ramfis' accusations and is condemned to death, while Amneris, who remains onstage, pleads with the priests to show him mercy. As he is sentenced to be buried alive, Amneris curses the priests while Radamès is taken away (Judgment scene, Amneris, Ramfis, and chorus: Ahimè! .. morir mi sento / "Alas ... I feel death").
The opening and close of act 4, scene 2:
("La fatal pietra" and "Morir! Sì pura e bella", with some cuts in the middle),
sung by Nicola Zerola in 1909.
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Scene 2: The lower portion of the stage shows the vault in the Temple of Vulcan; the upper portion represents the temple itself Radamès has been taken into the lower floor of the temple and sealed up in a dark vault, where he thinks that he is alone. As he hopes that Aida is in a safer place, he hears a sigh and then sees Aida. She has hidden herself in the vault in order to die with Radamès (Radamès and Aida: La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse. / "The fatal stone now closes over me"). They accept their terrible fate (Radamès: Morir! Si pura e bella / "To die! So pure and lovely!") and bid farewell to Earth and its sorrows. Above the vault in the temple of Vulcan, Amneris weeps and prays to the goddess Isis. In the vault below, Aida dies in Radamès' arms. (Chorus, Aida, Radamès, Amneris: Immenso Ftha / "Almighty Ptah.")
The opera has been adapted for motion pictures on several occasions, most notably in a 1953 production which starred Lois Maxwell and Sophia Loren, and a 1987 Swedish production. In both cases, the lead actors lip-synched to recordings by actual opera singers. The opera's story, but not its music, was used as the basis for a 1998 musical of the same name written by Elton John and Tim Rice.
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