What is Aida?

Aida is a four-act opera Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, who is also known for operas such as Nabucco, Rigoletto, Il trovatore (The Troubador), La traviata (The Fallen Woman), Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), and many others. It was written in 1870 with a libretto Antonio Ghislanzoni and adaptations French librettist Camille Du Locle and Verdi himself, based on a scenario Egyptologist August Mariette. The opera was supposed to be the Cairo Opera House’s opening work.

The opera premiered in Cairo on December 24, 1871, after a delay caused the Franco-Prussian War. It is still one of the most well-known operas in the twenty-first century.

The story takes place in the time of the Pharaohs in Memphis and Thebes, when Egypt and Ethiopia were at war. Radames, the Egyptian Captain of the Guards, dreams of taking command of the Egyptian army, as well as his love for Aida, an Ethiopian slave. He is unaware that she is the Ethiopian king’s daughter. Amneris, the Egyptian king’s daughter, joins him, having fallen in love with him and suspecting his affections are being diverted elsewhere. Aida appears, and Amneris’ suspicions are confirmed when she sees how Radames looks at her.

The King of Ethiopia is leading an army towards them, and Radames has been named commander of the Egyptian army that will meet them, according to a messenger. Aida’s anguish serves as a counterpoint to the crowd’s expectation of victory.

The scene begins in Amneris’ rooms in Act II, with her servants extolling Radames’ victories. Amneris dismisses the others and confronts Aida about her feelings for Radames, eventually tricking her into confessing. Women have opposing reactions to the portent as the strains of a victory march reach them.

Radames appears near Thebes’ city gates, and Amneris bestows a laurel wreath upon him. The King offers him anything he desires, and Radames requests the release of the prisoners. Aida sees her father among them and recognizes him. Radames petitions for the prisoners’ clemency, which is granted after some debate. As a final tribute, the king marries Amneris to Radames.

It’s the night before the wedding in Act III. Aida heads to a final meeting with Radames, while Amneris enters a temple to pray. Her father chastises her for attempting to obtain information from Radames about his military plans. Aida meets Radames and persuades him to join her in her escape. He inquires, and she reveals the army’s route, and her father appears as soon as he informs her. Radames is distressed the betrayal, and Aida and her father are attempting to console him when Amneris and the chief priest enter. Aida and her father flee, while Radames surrenders.

Amneris intends to save Radames in Act IV, but he refuses to defend himself and wishes only to die. Amneris expresses her love for him and informs him that Aida is still alive, eliciting a jealous reaction from him. Radames refuses to answer the charges at his trial, and Amernis begs for mercy. Radames is sentenced to be entombed alive beneath the god’s altar the priests. The priests are cursed Amneris.

The priests seal the tomb, and Radames discovers Aida hiding inside, ready to die with him. As they sing their final duet, Amneris prays for Radames’ peace from the altar above.