Cast in Opera Aida
THE KING OF EGYPT base
AMNERIS, his daughter mezzo-soprano
AIDA, Ethiopian slave soprano
RADAMES, Egyptian commander tenor
RAMFIS, high priest base
AMONASRO, King of Ethiopia and father of Aida baritone
Priests, priestesses, ministers, commanders, soldiers, courtiers, slaves, Ethiopian prisoners, people of Egypt.
The story takes place in Memphis and Thebes during the rule of the pharaohs.
The pharaoh’s palace at Memphis. The news of yet another Ethiopian incursion into Egypt sends alarm through the court. The young leader of the palace guard, Radames, dreams of the glory of a military commander. As a prize for his victory, he is going to demand his beloved Ethiopian slave Aida to be set free. Amneris, the daughter of the king appears. Secretly in love with Radames, she guesses about his love for the slave and the poison of jealousy eats through her heart. Radames’s emotion at the sight of Aida and the girl’s own embarrassment further intensify Amneris’s suspicion.
The pharaoh officially announces that Radames has been chosen by the gods as a leader of the Egyptian army. Everyone greets him with cheers and wish for victory over the enemy. Aida is torn between her love for Radames and the duty to her father, the Ethiopian king Amonasro and her country. In her desperation, she prays to the gods to send her death.
At god Pthah’s (Vulcan) temple, at Memphis, Ramses is being initiated. The priests invoke the gods to send victory to Egypt. Ramfis, the High Priest presents Radames with the consecrated sword and he leads the Egyptian army towards the enemy.
Amneris’s chambers. The pharaoh’s daughter joyfully expects the return of Radames, who has defeated the Ethiopians. The appearance of Aida awakens her suspicions and jealousy once more. Amneris tricks Aida into revealing her love for Radames and in her rage threatens the slave with terrible vengeance. The sounds of a triumphant march can be heard outside, as the public greet their victor. Torn between conflicting feelings Aida prays to gods again for their mercy, for despite her filial duty she cannot find the strength to revoke her love for Radames.
The town square at Thebes. The people give an enthusiastic welcome to the Egyptian troops. The Ethiopian prisoners of war are brought forward to the pharaoh. Among them, Aida recognises her father, Amonasro, who warns her not to reveal his identity and rank. Amonasro introduces himself as commander of the troops, to the Ethiopian king who has fallen in the battle. The prisoners beg for mercy and the public joins in. But the priests are inexorable and demand death for the defeated. In honour of the victory, the pharaoh generously grants freedom to the Ethiopian prisoners. Accepting the advice of the High Priest, however, he decides to keep Aida and her father Amonasro as hostages. The pharaoh awards Radames with the hand of his daughter. Amneris is triumphant, having achieved her goal – a victory over her rival.
The banks of the Nile. At the temple of goddess Isis, Amneris is praying. Under the cover of darkness, confused and desperate Aida awaits her beloved Radames. Suddenly Amonasro appears and finding out about her love, promises to Aida a free and happy life with Radames in her native Ethiopia, if she manages to extract from him the secret route the Egyptian army will be taking. Tormented by inner struggle, Aida reluctantly consents to her father’s will.
Radames comes, still full of hope for happiness with Aida. As the enemy rises for vengeance again, a new battle will ensue. Radames will be victorious again and this time the pharaoh will not reject his only desired prize. Aida however offers him a different route of salvation – fleeing to her native country. Radames is confused – could he possibly leave Egypt at such a fateful moment? But overwhelmed by his passionate love he yields to Aida’s plan and unwittingly reveals to her the secret army route. Amonasro is triumphant. Now the Ethiopians will have a certain victory. Horrified, Radames realises he has betrayed his country. Amneris and Ramfis emerge from the temple, having overheard everything. Aida and her father escape, while Radames surrenders to the High priest.
The antechambers to the temple of Pthah. Horrified by what has happened Amneris pleads with Radames to repent. She promises her love and the crown of Egypt to him, if he forgets Aida. But Radames is adamant – he has sacrificed his own honour and country for his love to the Ethiopian.
At the temple’s subterranean hall begins the trial against Radames. Ramfis announces the priests’ verdict – the traitor is condemned to be buried alive. In her desperation Amneris curses the priests when they remain obdurate.
The subterranean hall at Pthah’s temple. Radames awaits his death and reflects on his beloved. Unexpectedly Aida appears, having learnt of his sentence and crept to the tomb to share his fate. They are happy – even death cannot separate them now. The sound of the priests’ singing hymns can be heard from the temple above. Devastated, grieving Amneris kneels to pray before the tombstone.
Following the triumphant premier of Don Carlos in Paris, in 1867, Verdi began an active search for a new story for his new opera. Unfortunately, none of the librettos he came across over the next two years really possessed the qualities to spark his creative imagination. It was not until the summer of 1870 that a “nameless Egyptian programme”, sent to him by the viceroy of Egypt, Khedive Ismail Pasha, via Camille du Locle – one of the librettists of Don Carlos and Director of the Paris Opera Comique. The idea of Ismail Pasha – a man of astute mind and affinity to European culture and arts – was that this ancient Egyptian legend, which had been deciphered by the famous French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, could become the basis for an opera, to be staged at the opening of the Suez canal in the following 1871. Verdi was highly intrigued by the prospect of this creative task. The Maestro instantly spotted the brush of musical drama in the story about the tragic love of Aida, the enslaved Ethiopian princess and Radames, the Egyptian war leader, as drama had always been the core of his creative work process. Taken by the story, Verdi took to developing the detailed plan of the opera, together with Du Locle, who wrote the libretto in French. It was this libretto that Verdi offered as a basis to the poet Antonio Ghislanzoni, whom he commissioned to write the libretto in Italian verse. In the course of his work on the opera, Verdi consulted Mariette, studied the history and arts of ancient Egypt, collected information about the Egyptian natural scenery and the Egyptian way of life, while contemplating the use of some ancient type instruments used by this nation. Following some intense work over four months, Verdi completed the score for Aida in November of 1870. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the scheduled premier was delayed nearly a year and it was not until 24 December 1871, that the opera sounded for the first time at the Italian Opera Theatre in Cairo. Its success was overwhelming. In no less that two months, was staged the Italian premier of Aida, at La Scala, thus setting the path for the opera’s triumphant way across the European scenes.
In Aida, Verdi continued some of the theme lines of his earlier works, giving them an individual sounding, coloured by the specific subject of the opera. A passionate aspiration for freedom and happiness, the struggle for national independence, unmasking the cruel forces of tyranny and violence, and praising the power of love, were a constant source of inspiration for Verdi throughout his artistic carrier. Concordant with the moments of history in Italy of the second half of 19th century, they were particularly appealing to a composer, who was extremely sensitive to his civil duty and national dignity.
The personal drama in Aida, filled with acute collision, evolves on the background of monumental mass scenes, magnificent processions and dances. In its elaborate quality and grandeur, Aida is kin to the tradition of the grand French opera. This is a stylistic trend in Verdi’s work, which he employs as early as in I Vespri siciliani, and later in La forza del destino and Don Carlos. However in these works, as in Aida, the composer recreated the French manner through the prism of the peculiarities and forms of the Italian opera. The combination of melody appeal and psychological expression is typical for many of the opera score pages, and especially for the episodes in which the character of Aida is developed through the different hues of her state of mind. More traditional methods have been employed in the character development of Amneris and Radames, generously endowed with wonderful and expressive melodies. Energy and abundance of rhythm are the appealing musical features given to the Ethiopian king Amonasro. Verdi pays a special attention to the forces of evil, epitomised in Aida, by Ramfis and the priests. Bearers of their own characteristic complex means of musical expression, they play an active role in every act, in preparation for the opera’s tragic conclusion. The key dramaturgical role of the evil characters is a trend, which Verdi developed as early as Macbeth and further enhanced to the full in Don Carlos, where the dark and sinister character of the Great Inquisitor is largely reminiscent to the High Priest, Ramfis in Aida.
In terms of its musical dramaturgy, Aida is a new, higher step in Vardi’s creative evolution. Here he finally breaks with the traditional number structure, bringing the development of the “number” to a new expanse, not reached in his earlier operas. The finale in Act II is particularly illustrative in this respect,. Verdi calls it simply a “march”, adding “a very long and detailed one”. This broad-scale scene contains choirs, dance, recitative, arias, and orchestral episodes, brought together under the singular pulsation of the evolving plot line. The opera’s acute conflict contents determine the dramaturgical significance of the dialogue scenes, which become the benchmarks for the dramatic development. Verdi’s recitative style, forming through his much earlier works (e.g. La Traviata, Macbeth) reaches its perfection in Aida. In this opera, there are examples of perfect balance between the expression of speech and cantilena, fundamentally set forth by the dramatic contents. A unique combination of lyricism and broad scope, the specific and the general, emotional depth and social conflict, determine the Shakespearean scale of the work. Aida’s finale is a song about the force, loyalty and sacrifice in the name of love.
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