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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Aida
"Thanks to the also very properly cast minor roles, one can experience an espressivo vocal feast, representing a revival of the old spirit of the Italian Stage tradition, under the circumspect, effervescent conductorship of Rico Saccani"
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
Giuseppe Verdi's career spans three quarters of the
nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Roncole, near Busseto, the son of a
tavern-keeper, and distinguished himself locally in music. The encouragement
and patronage of his future father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a merchant in
Busseto, allowed him further study in Milan, before returning to Busseto as
maestro di musica. His first venture into opera, a reasonably successful one,
was in 1839 with Oberto. This was followed, however, by the failure of Un
giorno di regno, written at a period when the composer suffered the death
of his wife and two children. His early reputation was established by the opera
Nabucco, staged at La Scala in Milan in 1842.
Verdi's subsequent career in Italy was to bring him
unrivalled fame, augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter
of Italian national unity .His name itself was treated as an acronym for the
proposed monarch of a united Italy, Vittorio Emanuele re d 'Italia, and much of
his work in the period of unification was susceptible to patriotic
interpretation. His long association with the singer Giuseppina Strepponi led
to their marriage in 1859, the year of Un ballo in maschera. He
completed his last opera, Falstaff, in 1893, four years before her death, but
felt himself unequal to further Shakespearian operas that were then proposed.
He died while staying in Milan early in 1901, his death the subject of national
mourning throughout Italy.
Verdi wrote his Egyptian opera Aida for
performance at the new Cairo opera house, which had opened with a performance
of Rigoletto. The story of the enslaved Ethiopian princess Aida and her
love for the Egyptian hero Radames, 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 not known 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 finally staged in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871 and in February
1872 at La Scala, in both places to very considerable acclaim.
Scene I. A hall in the palace of the King at Memphis.
On the left and right there is a colonnade with statues and flowering shrubs.
At the back is a great gate, through which are seen temples, the palaces of Memphis
and the pyramids.
 Radames and Ramfis are in conversation. The latter
tells of the rumour that the Ethiopians are again on the war-path (Si: corre
voce che l'etope ardisca Yes; there is talk that the Ethopian attacks
again, threatening the Nile valley and
Thebes). Radames asks Ramfis if he has consulted Isis and
Ramfis tells him that the goddess has decided the name of the supreme Egyptian commander
and, looking fixedly at Radames, adds that the man chosen is brave and young:
now he must tell the King of the decision of Isis.
 Radames, left alone, now wonders if he is the chosen
man (Se quel guerrier /
Io fossi! If I were that warrior!). This, after
all, is his ambition, to lead soldiers to victory to the acclaim of all Memphis.
Then he might return, garlanded with laurels, to his beloved Aida. He sings in
praise of his heavenly Aida (Celeste Aida, forma divina Heavenly Aida,
form divine): she is the queen of his thoughts and victorious he will set her
free to breathe again the air of her own land.
 The Egyptian princess Amneris joins him, noticing the
unusual joy that appears now in his regard (Quale insolita gioia / Nel tuo sguardo!
What unusual joy there is in your regard!). She feels jealousy of the woman who
has been able to bring him such happiness. Radames tells her that his heart has
been filled with a dream of fame: the goddess has chosen the leader of the
Egyptian army, and this might be he. Amneris seeks to know whether he has not
had another more tender dream. Radames wonders if she has guessed his secret,
while she expresses her own strong suspicion. He catches sight of Aida.
 Amneris sees his look, as Aida appears (Si si turba...
e quale /sguardo rivolse a lei! He is troubled! What a look he turns on
her!), but then turns to her slave, greeting her not as a slave but as a
sister. Aida fears the approaching war, anxious for her unhappy country, but
Amneris asks if this is really the reason for her anxiety. Aside she bids her
slave tremble, and Radames notices her anger, fearing her suspicious jealousy,
while Aida expresses her true misgivings.
 The King enters, preceded by his guards and followed
by Ramfis, ministers, priests and captains.
 The King speaks, addressing his nobles (Alta cagion
v'aduna, / O fidi Egizi A serious cause brings you here, loyal Egyptians).
A messenger steps forward and tells how the sacred soil of Egypt has been
invaded by barbarous Ethiopians, destroying fields and crops and soon to attack
Thebes itself. Their army is led by a fierce warrior, Amonasro, their king, Aida's
father, as she exclaims in an aside. Now, the King declares, is the time for
war and Isis has declared the name of the Egyptian leader, Radames. He is
delighted at this answer to his prayers, while Aida is troubled. The ministers
and captains shout the name of Radames in acclamation.
 The King continues, bidding him to the temple of Vulcan
(Or di Vulcano al tempio / Muovi, o guerrier Now to the temple of Vulcan,
warrior) there to receive his weapons: Egyptian heroes will arise to wreak
death on the foreign aggressors. Ramfis proclaims glory to the gods, who rule everything
and hold the fate of the warrior in their power. Aida, in her mind, is divided,
whether to pray for her lover or her own country, while Radames has no doubts
about the glory that awaits him. Amneris gives him the glorious banner, to
guide and protect him on the path of glory. The assembled ministers and
captains shout their defiance of the enemy, for Radames will return as victor.
 Aida is left alone, haunted by these last words (Ritorna
vincitor! Return as victor). She cannot wish Radames victory over her own
father, who fights to set her free and restore her to her rightful place: he
would be victor over her brothers, stained with their blood, her father brought
in chains behind the conqueror's chariot: she begs the gods not to hear her mad
words (L'insana parola, / O Numi, sperdete! Gods, do not hear my mad
words), but let the enemies of her people perish: but then what of her love?
How can she wish the death of Radames?
 Aida dare not utter the names of father and lover (I
sacri nomi di padre,
d'amante The sacred names of father, of lover, I
cannot utter). She trembles in confusion, only death can end her dilemma.
Scene 2. Inside the temple of Vulcan at Memphis. A
mysterious light from above. A long row of columns, one behind the other,
disappearing into the darkness. Statues of various gods. In the middle, above a
platform covered with carpet, is an altar, surmounted by sacred emblems. From
golden tripods there rises the smoke of incense. Priests and priestesses,
Ramfis at the foot of the altar.
 A priestess within prays to the powerful god Ftha (Possente,
possente Ftha, del mondo / spirito animator Mighty Ftha, spirit that brings
life to the world), her voice joined by those of her priestesses, while Ramfis
and his priests, before the altar, invoke the god, father and son, source of
light, life of the universe.
 Radames enters, unarmed. While he approaches the
altar, the priestesses carry out a sacred dance. A silver veil is placed over
the head of Radames.
 Ramfis addresses Radames, entrusting him with the
destiny of Egypt (Mortal, diletto ai Numi, a te fidate / Son d'Egitto le sorti
Mortal, beloved of the gods, to you is entrusted the fate of Egypt). He gives
him the sacred sword, tempered by god, to be a terror to their enemies.
 Ramfis turns again to the altar, seeking the
protection of the gods over the soil of Egypt, a prayer echoed by Radames.
While Radames is invested with his sacred armour, the priests and priestesses
chant their prayer and perform their mystic dance.
Scene I. A room in the quarters of Amneris.
 Amneris is surrounded by slaves, preparing her for
the triumphal feast.
 The slaves sing of a bold warrior, victorious and to
be rewarded with love
(Chi mai fra gl'inni e i plausi / Erge alla gloria il vol
He who, with songs of praise and acclaim, rises to glory), while Amneris wishes
for her lover, to intoxicate her and make her happy. The slaves continue their
song of victory and love.
 There is a dance of little Moorish slaves, to
entertain the princess.
 The slave-girls continue their song and Amneris her
secret thoughts (Vieni:
sul crin ti povano / Contesti ai lauri i fior
Come: on your head the laurels of victory, with songs of glory and songs of
 Amneris sees Aida approaching (Silenzio! Aida verso noi s'avanza Silence! Aida
comes near, daughter of the vanquished, her sorrow is sacred to me). Amneris
signs to the slave-girls to leave, as Aida comes in, carrying the crown.
Amneris still harbours suspicions and jealousy in her heart.
 She now turns to Aida, with feigned kindness (Fu
la sorte dell'armi a'tuoi
funesta, / Povera Aida! The fate of battle was
disastrous to your people, poor Aida!), promising to be her friend and telling
her to be happy, but Aida cannot be happy, far from her country, with the fate
of her father and brothers unknown. Time will heal her sorrows, and a powerful
god, love, Amneris assures her. This is more disturbing to Aida, divided in her
loyalties between joy and torment, while Amneris looks at her closely in suspicion.
She asks her to reveal her secret thoughts and tell her of her love: does she
love some hero in the battle? By some trick of fate, the leader of the
Egyptians fell in battle. Aida is horrified at this news and will mourn for
ever, revealing her love for Radames. Amneris confesses her deception: Radames
lives, but Aida has shown her feelings to Amneris, who now declares herself
 Aida seeks the pity of Amneris in her sorrow (Pieta
ti prenda del mio dolor You pity my sorrow), admitting her
love for Radames, for which alone she lives, but Amneris may be happy. Amneris
threatens her, since this love can bring death to her (Trema, vil schiava!
Tremble, vile slave): she has power over Aida and has in her heart feelings of
hatred and revenge.
 Amneris commands Aida to be with her at the
triumphal celebration, while the voices of the people are heard celebrating
victory (Su! del Nilo al sacro lido Our men defended the sacred banks of
the Nile). For Aida nothing remains, her life is a desert and she can only die.
Amneris bids her follow, since she will teach her to struggle with her, while
the voices of the people are heard proclaiming war and death to the foreigners.
 Left alone, Aida calls on the gods to pity her
torment (Numi, poeta del mio martir Gods, pity my
Scene 2. In the foreground palm-trees. To the right the temple
of Ammon. To the left a throne with a purple canopy above. In the background a
triumphal gateway. The people crowd around. The King enters, followed by
ministers, priests, captains, fan-bearers, standard-bearers, then Amneris with
Aida and her slave-girls. The King takes his seat on the throne and Amneris
takes up her position on the left of the King.
 The people sing praise to Egypt, to Isis, protector
of their country (Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside Glory to Egypt, to Isis),
to their king, the women promising a laurel wreath for the brow of the victor
and Ramfis and his priests offering thanks to the gods.
 The Egyptian troops march in, preceded by fanfares,
passing before the King. There follow war chariots, standards, sacred vessels,
statues of the gods.
 Dancing-girls bring in the spoils of victory.
 The people sing the praises of the conquerors (Vieni,
o guerriero vindice Come, avenging warrior), their voices joining with
those of Ramfis and the priests, giving thanks to the gods.
Radames enters under a canopy held by twelve officers.
 The King descends from the throne to embrace Radames
(salvator della patria, io ti saluto Saviour of the country, I greet
you). Radames bows to Amneris, who offers him the crown. The King promises
Radames whatever he wants, but he asks first for his prisoners to be brought
in. These now come in, escorted by guards, with Amonasro, at the end, dressed
as an officer).
 Aida recognises her father (Che veggo!... Egli?...
Mio padre! What do I see!... He?... My father!) and embraces him, but he
whispers to her not to betray him. The King bids him come forward.
 Amonasro tells the King he is Aida's father (Suo
padre. Anch'io pugnai... Her father... I too have fought) and has fought for
his king and country, but his king was killed in battle: if it is a crime to
love their country, then they all must die. He asks the King for mercy, for
today they are defeated, but tomorrow it may be the Egyptians who suffer.
 Aida joins the prayer for mercy (Ma tu, Re, tu
signore possente But you, King, mighty lord), while the prisoners echo Amonasro's
words. Ramfis and the priests seek the death of the prisoners, while Amneris
watches Aida and Radames, who finds Aida more beautiful in her distress. The
King and the people are inclined to mercy, but the priests remain adamant.
 Radames now asks the King to grant his request (O
Re: pei sacri Numi O King, by the sacred gods, by the splendour
of your crown, grant my request). The King promises and Radames demands life
and freedom for the prisoners, a request that surprises Amneris and meets
objection from the priests. Ramfis warns the King not to listen, since these
prisoners have vengeance in their hearts. Radames claims that now Amonasro is
dead, the warrior king, the defeated have no hope. Ramfis suggests that at
least Aida's father, in fact Amonasro, should be kept as a hostage, and the
King agrees to this. Now he will grant Radames, as his reward, the hand of Amneris
in marriage (Try to take my love from me now, Amneris threatens, in an aside).
 King and people join in proclaiming glory to Egypt,
while the slaves and prisoners praise the clemency of the King (Gloria al
Egitto, ad Iside Glory to Egypt, to Isis). Aida wonders what is now left for
her, only the tears of disappointed love, and Radames, appalled by the turn of
fate, declares that the land of Egypt is no recompense for the love of Aida.
Amneris, meanwhile, is delighted at the apparent fulfilment of her dreams and Ramfis
prays that the fates be propitious over Egypt. Amonasro takes the chance to
tell Aida to take courage, since revenge is at hand.
Introduction. The banks of the Nile. Rocks of
granite from which palm-trees grow. On the height of the rocks the temple of Isis,
half hidden by the foliage. It is a starry night, with the moon shining
 The voices of priests and priestesses are heard from
the temple, singing to Isis (O tu che sei d'Osiride / Madre immortale e sposa
O thou who art immortal mother and wife of Osiris).
From a boat that comes near the shore Amneris disembarks,
with Ramfis, some of the court women, veiled, and guards.
 Ramfis addresses Amneris, bidding her to the temple (Vieni
d'Iside al tempio
Come to the temple of Isis) on the eve of her marriage,
to seek divine favour. Amneris says she will pray that Radames give her his
whole heart, as she gives hers to him. They enter the temple, as the priests
and priestesses continue their hymn.
 Aida enters cautiously, apparently summoned by Radames
(Qui Radames verra! Radames will be here, but what will he tell me):
this must be their last farewell. She remembers the blue skies, the sweet
breezes, green hills and flowing rivers of her own country, which she will
never see again.
 Amonasro approaches, to Aida's surprise (Ciel! mio
padre! Heavens! My father!), and he tells her he knows of her troubles,
with the daughter of Pharoah, ruler of their hated enemies, her rival in love.
She laments that she is in their power, but Amonasro assures her that she can
have again country, throne, and love: their people are ready to attack and Aida
herself can discover from Radames the route of the Egyptian armies. She is horrified
at the suggestion that she should betray Radames.
 Amonasro calls on the cohorts of Egypt to destroy
his people and country (Su, dunque! sorgete, / Egizie coorti! Rise then,
cohorts of Egypt!). Aida begs him to pity her, but Amonasro continues to tell
her of the horrors of war that her country will suffer and from which she can
save her people: otherwise she will have the curse of her mother and be
disowned by her father, to remain an Egyptian slave.
 Aida begs for pity (Ah! Pietil, pietil! Ah,
pity, pity!), but he tells her she must have the courage to help her country.
He withdraws and hides among the palm-trees.
 Radames now joins Aida (Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce
Aida Now I see you again, my sweet Aida). She asks him what he wants, since
he is to marry Amneris. He assures her he loves her alone: she must not doubt his
love, but she asks how he can defy the King and brave the anger of the priests.
 Radames tells her that danger again threatens (Nel
fiero anelito di nuova guerra The proud call to war has sounded again), for
the Ethiopians hare again invaded Egypt: he will earn the gratitude of the King
and the reward he wants.
 Aida tells him to beware the vengeful fury of
Amneris (Ne d'Amneris paventi / Il vindice furor? Fear the vengeful fury
of Amneris), which will fall on her, her father and on everyone. Radames
promises to defend her, but Aida tells him he cannot: one way is open to him,
 She tells him they must fly together to a new
country, where they can love each other (Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti Let
us fly this inhospitable land).
 Radames exclaims on the idea of escaping to a
foreign country, abandoning his own country , the altars of his gods, the land
where he won glory (Sovra una terra estrania To a foreign land). She
accuses him of not loving her, if he will not join her in flight: he must go to
the altar with Amneris.
 Radames gives way: let them fly together from these
walls to the desert, where stars will shine upon their love (Ah no! Fuggiamo!
Ah no! Let us fly!).
 Aida adds her nostalgic memories of her native land,
where they can be happy together (Nella terra avventurata / De'miei padri
In the happy country of my fathers). Together they dream of escape. They are
hurrying away, but Aida pauses.
 She asks Radames the route to be taken by the
Egyptian armies, apparently so that they may avoid them in their flight (Ma dimmi;
per qual via / Eviterem le schiere But tell me, which route shall we take
to avoid the soldiers). Radames tells her that the approach chosen will remain
unguarded that night and she elicits from him the information that the army
will attack through the gorges of Napata. Amonasro emerges from hiding, announcing
that his men will be there waiting. When Radames asks who is listening, he
reveals his identity as Aida's father, Amonasro, king of Ethiopia. Radames is
aghast and cannot believe it. When re-assured by Aida of the truth of the
claim, he is horrified at his own treachery. Amonasro declares this the work of
fate and invites Radames to cross the Nile with him and join the Ethiopians, to
be rewarded by the hand of Aida. At this point Amneris, Ramfis, priests and
guards emerge from the temple.
 Amneris now declares Radames a traitor (Traditor!),
while Aida recognizes the power of her rival. Amonasro threatens Amneris with
his dagger, but is prevented from killing her by Radames. Ramfis calls the
guards, while Radames tells Aida and her father to escape, prepared himself to
Scene I. A hall in the palace of the King. To the
left a great door leading to the subterranean court of justice. A passage on
the right leads to the prison of Radames.
 Amneris is crouched before the door, regretting the
escape of her rival (L'abborrita rivale a me sfuggia My hated rival has
escaped from me). Radames will now be condemned as a traitor, although he is
not, but yet he wanted to escape with her: she would save him, if she could.
Radames is brought in by the guards, and Amneris foresees his condemnation by
the priests: yet he can still save himself and she will intercede with her
father for him.
 Radames vows he will say nothing in his defence (Di
miei discolpe i giudici / Mai non udran l'accento The judges will hear no
word of excuse from me).
Amneris tells him that if he does not defend himself, he
must die, but he would welcome death.
 Amneris tells him he must live (Morire! Ah, tu dei
vivere! Die! Ah, you must live), through her love: she will sacrifice
country, throne and life for him. Radames, however, sacrificed his country and
his honour for Aida, who is now dead. Amneris assures him that Aida is still
alive: her father was killed, but she survived. Amneris asks Radames to abjure
his love for Aida, if she is to save him, but that he cannot do, preferring to
 Amneris, now angry, threatens her revenge, if he
rejects her love (Chi ti salva, sciagurato, / Dal1a sorte che t'aspetta?
Who is to save you, wretched man, from the fate that awaits you?).
 Radames announces death as a great good (E la morte
un ben supremo / Se per lei morir m'e dato Death is a great good, if it is
given me to die for her): he has no fear of human anger. Amneris, however,
 Radames is taken away, escorted by the guards.
Amneris, now alone, sits, in despair, wishing to save Radames and blaming
herself for his capture (Ohime!... morir mi sento! Alas! I die!). She
turns and sees the priests crossing to enter the subterranean court, exclaiming
on these fatal inexorable ministers of death. She covers her face with her
hands, blaming herself for the arrest of Radames. Ramfis and the priests seek
divine guidance, while Amneris prays for the release of Radames, who is now taken
down to the court, to her increased dismay. Accused by Ramfis and the priests,
he makes no answer. The accusers renew their demands, Amneris her prayers for
mercy, while Radames remains silent and is condemned to be immured, living, in
the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, and she ends by cursing them, as
they go out.
Scene 2. Within the temple of Vulcan and the tomb
The scene is divided into two levels, the upper
representing the interior of the temple, splendid in its gold and light. The
lower reveals an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearing into the
darkness. There are great statues of Osiris with crossed hands, supporting the
pillars of the vault above. Radames is there, on the steps leading to the
chamber. Above two priests are sealing the entrance with a stone.
 Radames prepares for death (La fatal pietra sovra
me si chiuse The fatal stone closes above me): this is his tomb and he will
never again see the light or his beloved Aida. At this moment Aida reveals
 She explains how she has hidden herself there,
anticipating his death (Presago il core della tua condanna My heart
foresaw your condemnation) and here she will die, in his arms.
 Radames is overcome with emotion, that she, so pure
and beautiful, will die for love of him (Morir! si pura e bella! Die! So
pure and beautiful!) and perish in the flower of her youth.
 Almost in a trance, Aida tells him to see, now the
angel of death drawing near (Vedi?... di morte l'angelo
/ Radiante a noi s'appressa Do
you see? The shining angel of death draws near
us): Heaven now awaits them.
 The voices of the priests are heard from the temple
above, praying to great Ftha, a sad song, says Aida, the triumph of the
priests, their hymn of death. Radames tries to move the stone that seals the
chamber, but in vain.
 Together they bid the earth farewell (O terra,
addio; addio, valle di pianti World, farewell, farewell, vale of tears),
while the priests continue their chant, and Amneris, dressed in mourning,
appears in the temple, throwing herself upon the stone that seals the
underground vault. In the crypt below Aida dies in the arms of her lover, while
Amneris prays Isis for them and the priests call still on their great god Ftha.
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