Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
, from a subject by Auguste Mariette, rewritten by Camille Du Locle
in collaboration with Verdi.Première:
Cairo, Opera Theatre, December 24th
The action takes place in ancient Egypt.
Act I. Scene I.
The Ethiopians are ready to attack the Nile Valley and Thebes; Ramfis, the high priest, tells young Radames that the gods have already indicated the warrior who will command the Egyptian army against the invaders. Radames hopes to be chosen in order to cover himself in glory for the love of Aida, and Ethiopian slave. The pharaoh's daughter, Amneris arrives, attended by the girl, whom Amneris, in love with Radames, suspects to be the one Radames loves. She manages to hide her jealousy, however, pretending good feelings toward her slave. The king, attended by his court, arrives and announces that Radames has indeed been chosen to lead the troops. Aida is torn between her love for Radames and her loyalty to her father and her people.
Act I. Scene II.
In the temple of Vulcan the propitiatory ceremonies and prayers are held, and Radames receives from Ramfis the sacred sword.
Act II. Scene I.
To find out Aida's true sentiments, Amneris falsely announces Radames' death to her. The slave girl cannot keep back a cry of despair and Amneris, certain by now to have her as a rival, unveils the deception and vows her revenge.
Act II. Scene II.
Radames has defeated the Ethiopians and the Egyptian army parades triumphantly before the king. Radames, crowned by Amneris, intercedes in favour of the prisoners, among whom is Amonasro, Aida's father. The king accepts, but then, at the protests of the priests, decides that Aida and her father will be kept hostage.
Radames cannot refuse marriage with the pharaoh's daughter, and Amneris, on the eve of the wedding, goes to the Temple of Iris to pray. In the meantime, Amonasro, having discovered the love between his daughter and Radames, orders her to ask Radames which route the Egyptians will take in order to allow the revolting Ethiopians to ambush them. Then he overhears, hidden, the conversation between the two lovers in which Radames reveals to Aida that the Egyptian army will attack the Ethiopians at the Napata Pass, as yet unguarded.. Amonasro, exulting, comes out of his hiding place. Radames is aghast, realising he has betrayed his own country without meaning to. Amneris with Ramfis arrives; Amonasro lunges to strike her, but Radames protects her and gives himself up to the high priest to expiate his unwitting betrayal.
Act IV. Scene I.
Amneris, still in love with Radames, goes to him in prison and begs him to give up Aida, in return for which she will save him. But Radames, unable to live without his beloved Aida, intends to pay for his crime: conducted before the priests' tribunal he is condemned to being buried alive.
Act IV. Scene II.
The scene is double: above is the interior of the Temple of Vulcan, below the crypt which will be Radames' tomb. The young man has been taken to his last resting place and a huge stone is lowered to close off the entrance, when suddenly Aida appears; she had hidden in the crypt in order to be with him to the last. Serenely they await together cruel death, while Amneris, in the temple, cries her lament.
In November, 1869, the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pascià, asked Verdi to compose a hymn for the inauguration of the Suez Canal. At first Verdi refused, saying he was not used to composing circumstantial music, but he began to think about a new opera. The Viceroy invited the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette to Paris and introduced him to Camille Du Locle, through whom he hoped to secure the collaboration of either Verdi, Wagner or Gounod, for the composition of the hymn. With an idea for a comic opera for Du Locle's theatre, Verdi had no intention of accepting Pascià's proposal, but when Du Locle himself showed him the outline for an opera Mariette had furnished, Verdi was enthusiastic. June 2nd, 1870 he finally accepted to compose the music for Aida; the opera premièred at the Opera Theatre in Cairo on the evening of December 24th, 1871, directed by Giovanni Bottesini, with soprano Antonietta Pozzoni Anastasi, tenor Pietro Mongini, mezzosoprano Eleonora Grossi and baritone Francesco Steller.
Verdi was not present at the première, but was awarded the prestigious title of Knight of the Ottoman Empire. A year later the Italian première took place at the Scala Theatre in Milan the evening of February 8th, 1872, directed by Franco Faccio.