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Aida (Arabic,عايدة, Arabic female name means Reward) is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (although there are scholars who argue that the scenario was really written by Temistocle Solera). It was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on December 24, 1871 under the baton of Giovanni Bottesini.


Ismail 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 refused on the grounds that he did not write "occasional pieces."

Aida met with great acclaim when it finally opened in December 1871, and it continues to be a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It appears as number sixteen on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America. There are many recordings, and it is one of the most popular operas.

Its story, but not its music, has been used as the basis for a 1998 musical of the same name written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

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.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, December 24, 1871
(Conductor: Giovanni Bottesini)
Aida, an Ethiopian princess soprano Antonietta Anastasi-Pozzoni
The King of Egypt bass Tommaso Costa
Amneris, daughter of the King mezzo-soprano Eleonora Grossi
Radames, Captain of the Guard tenor Pietro Mongini
Amonasro, King of Ethiopia baritone Francesco Steller
Ramfis, high Priest bass Paolo Medini
A messenger tenor Luigi Stecchi-Bottardi
Voice of a Priestess soprano Marietta Allievi
Priests, priestesses, ministers, captains, soldiers, officials, Ethiopians,
slaves and prisoners, Egyptians, animals and chorus


The "triumphal scene" from Opera Pacific's production of Aida in 2006, starring Angela Brown as Aida, Donnie Ray Albert as Amonasro, Andrew Gangestad as Ramfis, Carl Tanner as Radames, Milena Kitic as Amneris, and Stefan Szkafarowsky as King of Egypt.

A summary of the plot of Aida is detailed below.

Overview: Aida, an Ethiopian princess, is captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander, Radames, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, Radames is loved by the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris, although he does not return the feeling.

Act I

Scene 1

A hall in the King's palace; through the rear gate the pyramids and temples of Memphis

Ramfis, the high priest of Egypt tells Radames, the young warrior, that war with the Ethiopians seems inevitable, and Radames expresses the hope that he be chosen as the Egyptian commander. (Ramfis, Radames : Si, corre voce I'Etiope ardisca).

Radames dreams both of gaining victory on the battle field and of Aida, the Ethiopian slave, with whom he is secretly in love (Radames: Se quel guerrier io fossi!...Celeste Aida - "Heavenly Aïda"). Aida, who is also secretly in love with Radames, 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 Radames, but fears that his heart belongs to somebody else (Radames, Amneris: Quale insolita giola nel tuo squardo - "In thy visage I trace").

Then Aida appears and, when Radames sees her, Amneris notices that he looks disturbed. She suspects that Aida could be her rival, but she is able to hide her jealousy and approaches her (Amneris, Aida, Radames: Vieni, o diletta, appressati).

The wall at the stage opens wide, revealing a large hall

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 also proclaims Radames to be the man chosen by the goddess Isis as leader of the army (The King, Messenger, Radames, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Alta cagion v'aduna - "Oh fate o'er Egypt looming"). Upon receiving the mandate from the King, Radames proceeds to the temple of Vulcan to take up the sacred arms (The King, Radames, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Su! del Nilo al sacro lido - "On! Of Nilus' sacred river, guard the shores").

The wall at the stage closes to reveal the earlier scene

Alone in the hall, Aida is torn between her love for her father, her country, and Radames. (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, Radames: Possente Ftha...Tu che dal nulla - "O mighty Ptha.") followed by the installation of Radames to the office of commander-in-chief. (High Priestess, chorus, Radames: 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).

Act II

Scene 1

In Amneris chamber

Dances and music to celebrate Radames' 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 Radames' love and wonders whether Aida is in love with the young warrior. She tries to forget her doubt, entertaining her worried heart with the dance of Moorish slaves (Chorus, Amneris: Vieni: sul crin ti piovano).

When Aida enters the chamber, Amneris asks everyone to leave. By falsely telling Aida that Radames 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 Radames eternally (Amneris, Aida: Fu la sorte dell' armi a' tuoi funesta).

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) Amneris leaves her alone in the chamber.

Scene 2

At the grand gate of the city of Thebes

Radames 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 Radames 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. 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, Radames, The King, Amonasro, chorus: Che veggo! .. Egli? .. Mio padre! .. Anch'io pugnai).

As his reward from the King, Radames pleads with him to spare the lives of the prisoners and to set them free. Gratefully, the King of Egypt declares Radames to be his successor and to be his daughter's betrothed (Aida, Amneris, Radames, The King, Amonasro, chorus: O Re: pei sacri Numi! .. Gloria all'Egitto). Aida and Amonasro remain as hostages to ensure that the Ethiopians do not avenge their defeat.


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 Radames' wedding in the Temple of Isis. Outside, Aida waits to meet with Radames as they had planned (Aida: Qui Radames verra .. O patria mia - "Oh, my dear country!").

Amonasro appears and forces Aida to agree to find out the location of the Egyptian army from Radames (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.

Radames affirms that Aida is the person he will marry ( Pur ti riveggo, mio dolce Aida .. Nel fiero anelito ; Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti .. La, tra foreste vergini ), and Aida convinces him to flee to the desert with her.

In order to make their escape easier, Radames proposes that they use a safe route without any fear of discovery and he also reveals the location where his army has chosen to attack. Upon hearing this, Amonasro comes out of hiding and reveals his identity. Radames feels dishonored. At the same time Amneris and Ramfis leave the temple and, seeing Radames with their enemy, call the guards. Amonasro and Aida try to convince Radames to escape with them, but he refuses and surrenders to the imperial guards (Radames, Aida, Amonasro, Amneris, Ramfis: Aida! Tu non m'ami! .. Va'!).

Act IV

Scene 1

A hall in the Temple of Justice. To one side is the door leading to Radames' prison cell

Amneris ( L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia - "My hated rival has escaped me") desires to save Radames. She calls for the guard to bring him to her.

She asks Radames to deny the accusations, but Radames refuses. Certain that, as punishment, he will be condemned to death, Amneris implores him to defend himself, but Radames firmly refuses. He is relieved to know Aida is still alive and hopes she has reached her own country (Amneris, Radames: Gia i Sacerdoti adunasi). His decision hurts Amneris.

Radames' 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 Radames is taken away (Judgment scene, Amneris, Ramfis, and chorus: Ohime! .. morir mi sento - "Heavenly spirit, descend").

Scene 2

The lower portion of the stage shows the vault in the Temple of Vulcan; the upper portion represents the temple itself.

Radames has been taken into the lower floor of the temple and sealed up in a dark vault. Thinking that he is alone and hoping 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 Radames. (Radames and Aida: La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse.. - "The fatal stone now closes over me.") They accept their terrible fate (Radames: "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 Radames' arms. (Chorus, Aida, Radames, Amneris: Immenso Ftha - "Almighty Ptha.")

Footnote: The original draft included a speech by Aida (excised from the final version) that explained her presence beneath the Temple: "My heart knew your sentence. For three days I have waited here." The line most familiar to audiences translates as: "My heart forewarned me of your condemnation. In this tomb that was opened for you I entered secretly. Here, away from human sight, in your arms I wish to die."

Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Radames, Aida, Amneris)
Opera House and Orchestra
1951 Mario del Monaco,
Maria Callas,
Oralia Dominguez
Oliviero de Fabritiis,
Palacio de Bellas Artes orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
1952 Mario del Monaco,
Renata Tebaldi,
Ebe Stignani
Alberto Erede,
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Naxos Historical
Cat: 8.110129-30
1955 Richard Tucker,
Maria Callas,
Fedora Barbieri
Tullio Serafin,
La Scala orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B000002RY3
1959 Carlo Bergonzi,
Renata Tebaldi,
Giulietta Simionato
Herbert von Karajan,
Vienna State Opera, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca
1961 Mario del Monaco,
Gabriella Tucci,
Giulietta Simionato
Franco Capuana,
NHK Symphony Orchestra
(Movie recorded in Tokyo)
DVD: Video Artists Int'l
1962 Jon Vickers,
Leontyne Price,
Rita Gorr
Georg Solti,
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Decca
ASIN: B0000041RW
1972 Plácido Domingo,
Martina Arroyo,
Fiorenza Cossotto
Claudio Abbado,
La Scala orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Opera D'oro
ASIN: B00000AFP2
1974 Placido Domingo,
Montserrat Caballe,
Fiorenza Cossotto
Riccardo Muti,
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Royal Opera House chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B00005NW0C
1981 Luciano Pavarotti,
Margaret Price,
Stefania Toczyska
Garcia Navarro,
War Memorial Opera House orchestra and chorus
DVD: Kultur International Films
ISBN 0-7697-2251-2
1986 Luciano Pavarotti,
Maria Chiara,
Ghena Dimitrova
Lorin Maazel,
La Scala orchestra and chorus
DVD: Image Entertainment
1989 Plácido Domingo,
Aprile Millo,
Dolora Zajick
James Levine,
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 0019

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is product reference number.

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