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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI, G.: Aida (Highlights) (Dragoni, Johannson, Dever, Rucker, Saccani)
By Ralph V. Luciano
American Record Guide
(1813-1901): Aida (Highlights)
In the course of a
long life Giuseppe Verdi came to dominate Italian opera, after his first
significant success with Nabucco in 1842. His Egyptian opera Aida was
written for performance at the new Cairo opera house, which had opened with a
performance of his opera Rigoletto. The story of the enslaved Ethiopian
princess Aida and her love for the Egyptian hero Radamès, in rivalry with her
mistress, the Egyptian princess Amneris, and the death of the first two, has
some basis in the Hellenistic Aethiopica of Heliodorus, but was claimed
as the original work of Auguste Mariette, known as Mariette Bey. It has been
suggested that Temistocle Solera was responsible for the scenario, but if this
was so, the fact was unknown to Verdi, who had quarrelled with Solera in 1846
over the libretto of his opera Attila. The text of Aida was by
Antonio Ghislanzoni. The opera was staged in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871 and at
La Scala, Milan, in February 1872, in both places to very considerable acclaim.
 The opening Prelude
suggests, in its themes, the conflict that will develop between Aida and
the Egyptian priests.
Act I: Scene 1
In a hall in the
palace of the Egyptian King at Memphis the young captain Radamès is in conversation
with the High Priest, Ramfis, who hints broadly that the goddess Isis has
chosen Radamès to lead the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopians.
 Left alone,
Radamès wonders if it can be true that he is the chosen man, fulfilling his
ambition. Then he might return in triumph to his beloved Aida, whose heavenly
beauty he praises.
The Egyptian princess
Amneris suspects that Radamès, whom she loves, is secretly in love with Aida.
The King enters with his guards, ministers and priests and declares that the
time has come for war against the Ethiopians and their King, Amonasro, Aida's
father. He appoints Radamès to lead the Egyptian armies.  They leave for the
Temple or Vulcan and Aida is left with divided feelings. She cannot wish
Radamès victorious against her own father and her brothers, and yet she loves
him. She cannot mention the names or her father and her lover and trembles in
confusion, for only death can end her dilemma.
 In the Temple or
Vulcan the rites are performed and priestesses carry out a sacred dance, as
Radamès is appointed leader or the armies, to be given his sacred sword and
Act II: Scene 1
 In a room in the
quarters of Amneris slaves dance before her, singing of coming victory. She
dismisses them and is joined by Aida, whose confidence she tries to gain,
tricking her into confessing her love for Radamès. Amneris threatens her, in
angry jealousy.  She orders her to accompany her at the triumphal
celebration of victory, leaving Aida to call on the gods for pity.
 Before the great
Temple of Ammon the people crowd around, awaiting the triumphant return of the
victors.  The army marches in, preceded by fanfares, passing before the
King, seated on his throne, with Amneris standing by him.  Dancing-girls
carry in the spoils or victory.  The people sing the praises of the
conquerors, their voices joining with those of Ramfis and the priests, giving
thanks to the gods.
The King greets
Radamès as the saviour of his country and promises him whatever he wants. Among
the prisoners who are brought in is Amonasro, who conceals his identity.
Radamès seeks the release of the prisoners, against the objections or Ramfis,
but only Amonasro is detained, as a hostage. The King grants Radamès the hand of
his daughter Amneris in marriage, to the dismay of Aida and her lover, while
Amonasro secretly assures Aida that revenge is at hand.
It is a starry night
by the banks of the Nile. The Temple of Isis can be seen and from within are
heard the voices of priests and priestesses. A boat draws near and Amneris
disembarks, with Ramfis and some of the court women, and her guards. She enters
the temple to seek divine favour on the eve of her marriage.  Aida enters
cautiously, apparently summoned by Radamès for what she believes must be their
last farewell. She remembers the blue skies, sweet breezes, green hills and
flowing rivers of her own country.  She is startled to see her father,
Amonasro, approaching. He tells her that he knows of her difficulties with
Amneris and the situation in which she finds herself. With her help, she can be
restored to her rightful position in her own country, if she can discover from
Radamès the route the Egyptian armies will take. She is horrified at the very
suggestion that she should betray her lover.
Aida is joined by
Radamès, while Amonasro withdraws and hides among the palm-trees. Her own
dilemma is reflected in that of her lover, who is reluctant to desert his own
country, but eventually agrees to do so. As they are about to hurry away
together, Aida asks him about the route to be taken by the Egyptian army, so
that they may avoid the soldiers. Radamès, overheard by Amonasro, reveals the
army plans, aghast when Amonasro steps forward and reveals himself as Aida's
father and King of Ethiopia. He invites Radamès to join together with the
Ethiopians, but they are overheard by Amneris, emerging from the temple. She
accuses Radamès of treachery and is threatened with death by Amonasro, but
saved by the young captain's intervention. Ramfis calls the guards and Radamès
tells Aida and her father to make their escape, while he stays behind.
Act IV: Scene 1
 In a hall in the
royal palace, outside the door of the prison where Radamès is incarcerated,
Amneris regrets the escape of her rival, Aida. Radamès will be condemned as a
traitor, although she would save him, if she could. She foresees, however, his
condemnation by the priests.  Brought in by the guards, he vows to say nothing in
his defence, but Amneris tells him that if he does not defend himself he must
die. Nevertheless he is ready to face death.  She urges him to live and
promises to sacrifice everything for him. He had believed Aida dead, but
Amneris tells him that Amonasro was killed but that Aida still lives. She will
save him, if he gives up Aida, but he prefers death.  In fury Amneris
threatens revenge, if he continues to reject her.  Radamès, however, will accept death as a great good and
has no fear of the threatened revenge of Amneris.
Radamès is taken away by the
guards and Amneris is left in despair, blaming herself for his capture. She
sees the priests, led by Ramfis, seeking divine guidance, while she prays for
his release. Finally Radamès is condemned to
death, immured, living, in the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, and
ends by cursing the priests, as they go out.
The scene is on two levels, the upper representing the interior of the temple, splendid in its
gold and light. Below is an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearing
into the distance. Radamès is there, as two priests seal the entrance with a
stone.  He is prepared to die, losing the light of day and his beloved
Aida. At this moment Aida reveals herself. She explains how she has hidden in the
tomb, anticipating his death. He is overcome with emotion at her sacrifice and,
almost in a trance, she tells him how she sees the angel of death drawing near;
Heaven now awaits them. The voices of the priests are heard from above, singing
their hymn of death. Radamès tries to move the stone that seals the chamber,
but without success.  Together they bid the earth farewell, while the
priests continue their chant. Amneris, dressed in mourning, appears in the
temple above, throwing herself down on the stone that seals the underground
vault. In the tomb below Aida dies in the arms of her lover, while Amneris
prays to Isis for them and the priests call on the great god Fthá.
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VERDI, G.: Aida (Highlights) (Dragoni, Johannson, ...